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is  ART? 





c-::r;\3   pv 

->-•'*'•'  *   '^  ! 




WHAT  thoughtful  man  has  not  been  perplexed  by  problems 
relating  to  art  ? 

An  estimable  and  charming  Russian  lady  I  knew,  felt 
the  charm  of  the  music  and  ritual  of  the  services  of  the 
Russo-Greek  Church  so  strongly  that  she  wished  the 
peasants,  in  whom  she  was  interested,  to  retain  their  blind 
faith,  though  she  herself  disbelieved  the  church  doctrines. 
"  Their  lives  are  so  poor  and  bare — they  have  so  little  art, 
so  little  poetry  and  colour  in  their  lives — let  them  at  least 
enjoy  what  they  have;  it  would  be  cruel  to  undeceive 
them,"  said  she. 

A  false  and  antiquated  view  of  life  is  supported  by  means 
of  art,  and  is  inseparably  linked  to  some  manifestations  of 
art  which  we  enjoy  and  prize.  If  the  false  view  of  life  be 
destroyed  this  art  will  cease  to  appear  valuable.  Is  it  best 
to  screen  the  error  for  the  sake  of  preserving  the  art?  Or 
should  the  art  be  sacrificed  for  the  sake  of  truthfulness  ? 

Again  and  again  in  history  a  dominant  church  has 
utilised  art  to  maintain  its  sway  over  men.  Reformers 
(early  Christians,  Mohammedans,  Puritans,  and  others) 
have  perceived  that  art  bound  people  to  the  old  faith,  and 
they  were  angry  with  art.  They  diligently  chipped  the  noses 
from  statues  and  images,  and  were  wroth  with  ceremonies, 
decorations,  stained-glass  windows,  and  processions.  They 
were  even  ready  to  banish  art  altogether,  for,  besides  the 


superstitions  it  upheld,  they  saw  that  it  depraved  and  per 
verted  men  by  dramas,  drinking-songs,  novels,  pictures,  and 
dances,  of  a  kind  that  awakened  man's  lower  nature.  Yet 
art  always  reasserted  her  sway,  and  to-day  we  are  told  by 
many  that  art  has  nothing  to  do  with  morality — that  "art 
should  be  followed  for  art's  sake." 

I  went  one  day,  with  a  lady  artist,  to  the  Bodkin  Art 
Gallery  in  Moscow.  In  one  of  the  rooms,  on  a  table,  lay  a 
book  of  coloured  pictures,  issued  in  Paris  and  supplied,  I 
believe,  to  private  subscribers  only.  The  pictures  were 
admirably  executed,  but  represented  scenes  in  the  private 
cabinets  of  a  restaurant.  Sexual  indulgence  was  the  chief 
subject  of  each  picture.  Women  extravagantly  dressed  and 
partly  undressed,  women  exposing  their  legs  and  breasts  to 
men  in  evening  dress;  men  and  women  taking  liberties 
with  each  other,  or  dancing  the  "  can-can,"  etc.,  etc.  My 
companion  the  artist,  a  maiden  lady  of  irreproachable 
conduct  and  reputation,  began  deliberately  to  look  at  these 
pictures.  I  could  not  let  my  attention  dwell  on  them  with 
out  ill  effects.  Such  things  had  a  certain  attraction  for  me, 
and  tended  to  make  me  restless  and  nervous.  I  ventured 
to  suggest  that  the  subject-matter  of  the  pictures  was 
objectionable.  But  my  companion  (who  prided  herself  on 
being  an  artist)  remarked  with  conscious  superiority,  that 
from  an  artist's  point  of  view  the  subject  was  of  no  con 
sequence.  The  pictures  being  very  well  executed  were 
artistic,  and  therefore  worthy  of  attention  and  study. 
Morality  had  nothing  to  do  with  art. 

Here  again  is  a  problem.  One  remembers  Plato's  advice 
not  to  let  our  thoughts  run  upon  women,  for  if  we  do  we 
shall  think  clearly  about  nothing  else,  and  one  knows  that 
to  neglect  this  advice  is  to  lose  tranquillity  of  mind;  but 
then  one  does  not  wish  to  be  considered  narrow,  ascetic,  or 
inartistic,  nor  to  lose  artistic  pleasures  which  those  around 
us  esteem  so  highly. 


Again,  the  newspapers  last  year  printed  proposals  to 
construct  a  Wagner  Opera  House,  to  cost,  if  I  recollect 
rightly,  ;£  100,000 — about  as  much  as  a  hundred  labourers 
may  earn  by  fifteen  or  twenty  years'  hard  work.  The 
writers  thought  it  would  be  a  good  thing  if  such  an  Opera 
House  were  erected  and  endowed.  But  I  had  a  talk  lately 
with  a  man  who,  till  his  health  failed  him,  had  worked  as  a 
builder  in  London.  He  told  me  that  when  he  was  younger 
he  had  been  very  fond  of  theatre-going,  but,  later,  when  he 
thought  things  over  and  considered  that  in  almost  every 
number  of  his  weekly  paper  he  read  of  cases  of  people 
whose  death  was  hastened  by  lack  of  good  food,  he  felt  it 
was  not  right  that  so  much  labour  should  be  spent  on 

In  reply  to  this  view  it  is  urged  that  food  for  the  mind  is 
as  important  as  food  for  the  body.  The  labouring  classes 
work  to  produce  food  and  necessaries  for  themselves  and 
for  the  cultured,  while  some  of  the  cultured  class  produce 
plays  and  operas.  It  is  a  division  of  labour.  But  this 
again  invites  the  rejoinder  that,  sure  enough,  the  labourers 
produce  food  for  themselves  and  also  food  that  the  cultured 
class  accept  and  consume,  but  that  the  artists  seem  too 
often  to  produce  their  spiritual  food  for  the  cultured  only 
— at  any  rate  that  a  singularly  small  share  seems  to  reach 
the  country  labourers  who  work  to  supply  the  bodily 
food!  Even  were  the  "division  of  labour"  shown  to  be 
a  fair  one,  the  "  division  of  products  "  seems  remarkably 

Once  again:  how  is  it  that  often  when  a  new  work  is 
produced,  neither  the  critics,  the  artists,  the  publishers,  nor 
the  public,  seem  to  know  whether  it  is  valuable  or  worth 
less?  Some  of  the  most  famous  books  in  English  litera 
ture  could  hardly  find  a  publisher,  or  were  savagely  derided 
by  leading  critics;  while  other  works  once  acclaimed  as 
masterpieces  are  now  laughed  at  or  utterly  forgotten.  A 


play  which  nobody  now  reads  was  once  passed  off  as  a 
newly-discovered  masterpiece  of  Shakespear's,  and  was 
produced  at  a  leading  London  theatre.  Are  the  critics 
playing  blind-man's  buff?  Are  they  relying  on  each  other? 
Is  each  following  his  own  whim  and  fancy?  Or  do  they 
possess  a  criterion  which  they  never  reveal  to  those  outside 
the  profession  ? 

Such  are  a  few  of  the  many  problems  relating  to  art  which 
present  themselves  to  us  all,  and  it  is  the  purpose  of  this 
book  to  enable  us  to  reach  such  a  comprehension  of  art, 
and  of  the  position  art  should  occupy  in  our  lives,  as  will 
enable  us  to  answer  such  questions. 

The  task  is  one  of  enormous  difficulty.  Under  the  cloak 
of  "art,"  so  much  selfish  amusement  and  self-indulgence 
tries  to  justify  itself,  and  so  many  mercenary  interests  are 
concerned  in  preventing  the  light  from  shining  in  upon  the 
subject,  that  the  clamour  raised  by  this  book  can  only  be 
compared  to  that  raised  by  the  silversmiths  of  Ephesus 
when  they  shouted,  "  Great  is  Diana  of  the  Ephesians !  " 
for  about  the  space  of  two  hours. 

Elaborate  theories  blocked  the  path  with  subtle  sophis 
tries  or  ponderous  pseudo-erudition.  Merely  to  master 
these,  and  expose  them,  was  by  itself  a  colossal  labour, 
but  necessary  in  order  to  clear  the  road  for  a  statement  of 
any  fresh  view.  To  have  accomplished  this  work  of  exposure 
in  a  few  chapters  is  a  wonderful  achievement.  To  have 
done  it  without  making  the  book  intolerably  dry  is  more 
wonderful  still.  In  Chapter  III.  (where  a  rapid  summary  of 
some  sixty  aesthetic  writers  is  given)  even  Tolstoy's  powers 
fail  to  make  the  subject  interesting,  except  to  the  specialist, 
and  he  has  to  plead  with  his  readers  "not  to  be  overcome 
by  dulness,  but  to  read  these  extracts  through." 

Among  the  writers  mentioned,  English  readers  miss  the 
names  of  John  Ruskin  and  William  Morris,  especially  as  so 
much  that  Tolstoy  says,  is  in  accord  with  their  views, 

1NTR  OD  UCTION.  ix 

Of  Ruskin,  Tolstoy  has  a  very  high  opinion.  I  have 
heard  him  say,  "  I  don't  know  why  you  English  make 
such  a  fuss  about  Gladstone — you  have  a  much  greater 
man  in  Ruskin."  As  a  stylist,  too,  Tolstoy  speaks  of 
him  with  high  commendation.  Ruskin,  however,  though 
he  has  written  on  art  with  profound  insight,  and  has 
said  many  things  with  which  Tolstoy  fully  agrees,  has, 
I  think,  nowhere  so  systematised  and  summarised  his  view 
that  it  can  be  readily  quoted  in  the  concise  way  which  has 
enabled  Tolstoy  to  indicate  his  points  of  essential  agree 
ment  with  Home,  Veron,  and  Kant.  Even  the  attempt  to 
summarise  Kant's  aesthetic  philosophy  in  a  dozen  lines  will 
hardly  be  of  much  service  except  to  readers  who  have  already 
some  acquaintance  with  the  subject.  For  those  to  whom  the 
difference  between  "subjective"  and  "objective"  percep 
tions  is  fresh,  a  dozen  pages  would  be  none  too  much.  And 
to  summarise  Ruskin  would  be  perhaps  more  difficult  than 
to  condense  Kant. 

As  to  William  Morris,  we  are  reminded  of  his  dictum  that 
art  is  the  workman's  expression  of  joy  in  his  work,  by 
Tolstoy's  "As  soon  as  the  author  is  not  producing  art  for 
his  own  satisfaction, — does  not  himself  feel  what  he  wishes 
to  express, — a  resistance  immediately  springs  up"  (p.  154); 
and  again,  "  In  such  transmission  to  others  of  the  feelings 
that  have  arisen  in  him,  he  (the  artist)  will  find  his  happi 
ness"  (p.  195).  Tolstoy  sweeps  over  a  far  wider  range  of 
thought,  but  he  and  Morris  are  not  opposed.  Morris  was 
emphasising  part  of  what  Tolstoy  is  implying. 

But  to  return  to  the  difficulties  of  Tolstoy's  task.  There 
is  one,  not  yet  mentioned,  lurking  in  the  hearts  of  most  of 
us.  We  have  enjoyed  works  of  "art."  We  have  been 
interested  by  the  information  conveyed  in  a  novel,  or  we 
have  been  thrilled  by  an  unexpected  "effect";  have 
admired  the  exactitude  with  which  real  life  has  been 

reproduced,  or  have  had  our  feelings  touched  by  allusions 


to,  or  reproductions  of,  works — old  German  legends,  Greek 
myths,  or  Hebrew  poetry — which  moved  us  long  ago,  as 
they  moved  generations  before  us.  And  we  thought  all  this 
was  "art."  Not  clearly  understanding  what  art  is,  and 
wherein  its  importance  lies,  we  were  not  only  attached  to 
these  things,  but  attributed  importance  to  them,  calling 
them  "artistic"  and  "beautiful,"  without  well  knowing 
what  we  meant  by  those  words. 

But  here  is  a  book  that  obliges  us  to  clear  our  minds. 
It  challenges  us  to  define  "art"  and  "beauty,"  and  to  say 
why  we  consider  these  things,  that  pleased  us,  to  be  specially 
important.  And  as  to  beauty,  we  find  that  the  definition 
given  by  aesthetic  writers  amounts  merely  to  this,  that 
"Beauty  is  a  kind  of  pleasure  received  by  us,  not  having 
personal  advantage  for  its  object."  But  it  follows  from  this, 
that  "  beauty  "  is  a  matter  of  taste,  differing  among  different 
people,  and  to  attach  special  importance  to  what  pleases 
me  (and  others  who  have  had  the  same  sort  of  training 
that  I  have  had)  is  merely  to  repeat  the  old,  old  mistake 
which  so  divides  human  society;  it  is  like  declaring  that  my 
race  is  the  best  race,  my  nation  the  best  nation,  my 
church  the  best  church,  and  my  family  the  "  best  "  family. 
It  indicates  ignorance  and  selfishness. 

But  "truth  angers  those  whom  it  does  not  convince;" 
—people  do  not  wish  to  understand  these  things.  It  seems, 
at  first,  as  though  Tolstoy  were  obliging  us  to  sacrifice  some 
thing  valuable.  We  do  not  realise  that  we  are  being  helped 
to  select  the  best  art,  but  we  do  feel  that  we  are  being 
deprived  of  our  sense  of  satisfaction  in  Rudyard  Kipling. 

Both  the  magnitude  and  the  difficulty  of  the  task  were 
therefore  very  great,  but  they  have  been  surmounted  in  a 
marvellous  manner.  Of  the  effect  this  book  has  had  on  me 
personally,  I  can  only  say  that  "whereas  I  was  blind,  now  I 
see."  Though  sensitive  to  some  forms  of  art,  I  was,  when 
I  took  it  up,  much  in  the  dark  on  questions  of  aesthetic 


philosophy;  when  I  had  done  with  it,  I  had  grasped  the 
main  solution  of  the  problem  so  clearly  that — though  I 
waded  through  nearly  all  that  the  critics  and  reviewers  had 
to  say  about  the  book — I  never  again  became  perplexed 
upon  the  central  issues. 

Tolstoy  was  indeed  peculiarly  qualified  for  the  task  he 
has  accomplished.  It  was  after  many  years  of  work  as  a 
writer  of  fiction,  and  when  he  was  already  standing  in  the 
very  foremost  rank  of  European  novelists,  that  he  found 
himself  compelled  to  face,  in  deadly  earnest,  the  deepest 
problems  of  human  life.  He  not  only  could  not  go  on 
writing  books,  but  he  felt  he  could  not  live,  unless  he 
found  clear  guidance,  so  that  he  might  walk  sure-footedly 
and  know  the  purpose  and  meaning  of  his  life.  Not  as  a 
mere  question  of  speculative  curiosity,  but  as  a  matter  of 
vital  necessity,  he  devoted  years  to  re-discover  the  truths 
which  underlie  all  religion. 

To  fit  him  for  this  task  he  possessed  great  knowledge  of 
men  and  books,  a  wide  experience  of  life,  a  knowledge  of 
languages,  and  a  freedom  from  bondage  to  any  authority 
but  that  of  reason  and  conscience.  He  was  pinned  to 
no  Thirty-nine  Articles,  and  was  in  receipt  of  no  retaining 
fee  which  he  was  not  prepared  to  sacrifice.  Another  gift, 
rare  among  men  of  his  position,  was  his  wonderful  sincerity 
and  (due,  I  think,  to  that  sincerity)  an  amazing  power  of 
looking  at  the  phenomena  of  our  complex  and  artificial  life 
with  the  eyes  of  a  little  child;  going  straight  to  the  real, 
obvious  facts  of  the  case,  and  brushing  aside  the  sophistries, 
the  conventionalities,  and  the  "authorities"  by  which  they 
are  obscured. 

He  commenced  the  task  when  he  was  about  fifty  years 
of  age,  and  since  then  (i.e.,  during  the  last  twenty  years)  he 
has  produced  nine  philosophical  or  scientific  works  of  first- 
rate  importance,  besides  a  great  many  stories  and  short 


These  works,  in  chronological  order,  are — 
My  Confession. 
A    Criticism  of  Dogmatic  Theology,  which  has  never 

been  translated. 

The  Four  Gospels  Harmonised  and  Translated,  of 
which  only  two  parts,  out  of  three,  have  as  yet 
appeared  in  English. 

What  I  Believe,  sometimes  called  My  Religion. 
The  Gospel  in  Brief. 
What  are  we  to  do  then?  sometimes  called  in  English 

What  to  do? 
On  Life,  which  is   not  an  easy  work  in  the  original, 

and  has  not  been  satisfactorily  translated.1 
The  Kingdom  of  God  is  within  you;  and 
The  Christian  Teaching,  which  appeared  after    What 

is  Art  ?  though  it  was  written  before  it. 
To  these  scientific  works  I  am  inclined  to  add  The 
Kteutzer  Sonata,  with  the  Sequel  or  Postscript  explaining 
its  purpose ;  for  though  The  Kreutzer  Sonata  is  a  story, 
the  understanding  of  sexual  problems,  dealt  with  explicitly 
in  the  Sequel,  is  an  integral  part  of  that  comprehension 
of  life  which  causes  Tolstoy  to  admire  Christ,  Buddha,  or 
Francis  of  Assisi. 

These  ten  works  treat  of  the  meaning  of  our  life ;  of  the 
problems  raised  by  the  fact  that  we  approve  of  some  things 
and  disapprove  of  others,  and  find  ourselves  deciding 
which  of  two  courses  to  pursue. 

Religion,  Government,  Property,  Sex,  War,  and  all  the 
relations  in  which  man  stands  to  man,  to  his  own  con 
sciousness,  and  to  the  ultimate  source  (which  we  call 
God)  from  whence  that  consciousness  proceeds — are  ex 
amined  with  the  utmost  frankness. 

1  Bolton  Hall  has  recently  published  a  little  work,  Life,  and  Love, 
and  Death,  with  the  object  of  making  the  philosophy  contained  in  On 
Life  more  easily  accessible  in  English. 


And  all  this  time  the  problems  of  Art:  What  is  Art? 
What  importance  is  due  to  it  ?  How  is  it  related  to  the 
rest  of  life  ? — were  working  in  his  mind.  He  was  a 
great  artist,  often  upbraided  for  having  abandoned  his 
art.  He,  of  all  men,  was  bound  to  clear  his  thoughts  on 
this  perplexing  subject,  and  to  express  them.  His  whole 
philosophy  of  life — the  "religious  perception"  to  which, 
with  such  tremendous  labour  and  effort,  he  had  attained, 
forbade  him  to  detach  art  from  life,  and  place  it  in  a  water 
tight  compartment  where  it  should  not  act  on  life  or  be 
re-acted  upon  by  life. 

Life  to  him  is  rational.  It  has  a  clear  aim  and  purpose, 
discernible  by  the  aid  of  reason  and  conscience.  And  no 
human  activity  can  be  fully  understood  or  rightly  appre 
ciated  until  the  central  purpose  of  life  is  perceived. 

You  cannot  piece  together  a  puzzle-map  as  long  as  you 
keep  one  bit  in  a  wrong  place,  but  when  the  pieces  all  fit 
together,  then  you  have  a  demonstration  that  they  are  all  in 
their  right  places.  Tolstoy  used  that  simile  years  ago 
when  explaining  how  the  comprehension  of  the  text, 
"resist  not  him  that  is  evil,"  enabled  him  to  perceive  the 
reasonableness  of  Christ's  teaching,  which  had  long  baffled 
him.  So  it  is  with  the  problem  of  Art.  Wrongly  under 
stood,  it  will  tend  to  confuse  and  perplex  your  whole  com 
prehension  of  life.  But  given  the  clue  supplied  by  true 
"religious  perception,"  and  you  can  place  art  so  that  it 
shall  fit  in  with  a  right  understanding  of  politics,  economics, 
sex-relationships,  science,  and  all  other  phases  of  human 

The  basis  on  which  this  work  rests,  is  a  perception  of 
the  meaning  of  human  life.  This  has  been  quite  lost 
sight  of  by  some  of  the  reviewers,  who  have  merely  mis 
represented  what  Tolstoy  says,  and  then  demonstrated  how 
very  stupid  he  would  have  been  had  he  said  what  they 
attributed  to  him.  Leaving  his  premises  and  arguments  un- 


touched,  they  dissent  from  various  conclusions — as  though  it 
were  all  a  mere  question  of  taste.  They  say  that  they  are  very 
fond  of  things  which  Tolstoy  ridicules,  and  that  they  can't 
understand  why  he  does  not  like  what  they  like — which  is 
quite  possible,  especially  if  they  have  not  understood 
the  position  from  which  he  starts.  But  such  criticism 
can  lead  to  nothing.  Discussions  as  to  why  one  man  likes 
pears  and  another  prefers  meat,  do  not  help  towards 
finding  a  definition  of  what  is  essential  in  nourishment; 
and  just  so,  "  the  solution  of  questions  of  taste  in  art  does 
not  help  to  make  clear  what  this  particular  human  activity 
which  we  call  art  really  consists  in." 

The  object  of  the  following  brief  summary  of  a  few  main 
points  is  to  help  the  reader  to  avoid  pitfalls  into  which 
many  reviewers  have  fallen.  It  aims  at  being  no  more  than 
a  bare  statement  of  the  positions — for  more  than  that,  the 
reader  must  turn  to  the  book  itself. 

Let  it  be  granted  at  the  outset,  that  Tolstoy  writes  for 
those  who  have  "ears  to  hear."  He  seldom  pauses  to  safe 
guard  himself  against  the  captious  critic,  and  cares  little 
for  minute  verbal  accuracy.  For  instance,  on  page  144,  he 
mentions  "Paris,"  where  an  English  writer  (even  one  who 
knew  to  what  an  extent  Paris  is  the  art  centre  of  France, 
and  how  many  artists  flock  thither  from  Russia,  America, 
and  all  ends  of  the  earth)  would  have  been  almost  sure  to 
have  said  "France,"  for  fear  of  being  thought  to  exaggerate. 
One  needs  some  alertness  of  mind  to  follow  Tolstoy  in  his 
task  of  compressing  so  large  a  subject  into  so  small  a 
space.  Moreover,  he  is  an  emphatic  writer  who  says 
what  he  means,  and  even,  I  think,  sometimes  rather 
over-emphasises  it.  With  this  much  warning  let  us  pro 
ceed  to  a  brief  summary  of  Tolstoy's  view  of  art. 

"Art  is  a  human  activity,"  and  consequently  does  not 
exist  for  its  own  sake,  but  is  valuable  or  objectionable  in 
proportion  as  it  is  serviceable  or  harmful  to  mankind. 


The  object  of  this  activity  is  to  transmit  to  others  feeling 
the  artist  has  experienced.  Such  feelings — intentionally 
re-evoked  and  successfully  transmitted  to  others — are  the 
subject-matter  of  all  art.  By  certain  external  signs — move 
ments,  lines,  colours,  sounds,  or  arrangements  of  words — an 
artist  infects  other  people  so  that  they  share  his  feelings. 
Thus  "art  is  a  means  of  union  among  men,  joining  them 
together  in  the  same  feelings." 

Chapters  II.  to  V.  contain  an  examination  of  various 
theories  which  have  taken  art  to  be  something  other  than 
this,  and  step  by  step  we  are  brought  to  the  conclusion 
that  art  is  this,  and  nothing  but  this. 

Having  got  our  definition  of  art,  let  us  first  consider 
art  independently  of  its  subject-matter,  i.e.,  without  asking 
whether  the  feelings  transmitted  are  good,  bad,  or  in 
different.  Without  adequate  expression  there  is  no  art, 
for  there  is  no  infection,  no  transference  to  others  of  the 
author's  feeling.  The  test  of  art  is  infection.  If  an 
author  has  moved  you  so  that  you  feel  as  he  felt,  if  you 
are  so  united  to  him  in  feeling  that  it  seems  to  you  that 
he  has  expressed  just  what  you  have  long  wished  U>  express, 
the  work  that  has  so  infected  you  is  a  work  of  ai*t. 

In  this  sense,  it  is  true  that  art  has  nothing  to  do 
with  morality;  for  the  test  lies  in  the  ''infection/'  and  not 
in  any  consideration  of  the  goodness  or  badness  of  the 
emotions  conveyed.  Thus  the  test  of  art  is  an  internal 
one.  The  activity  of  art  is  based  on  the  fact  that  a 
man,  receiving,  through  his  sense  of  hearing'  or  sight, 
another  man's  expression  of  feeling,  is  capable  of  experi 
encing  the  emotion  that  moved  the  man  who  expressed  it. 
We  all  share  the  same  common  human  nature,  and  in 
this  sense,  at  least,  are  sons  of  one  Father.  To  take  the 
simplest  example:  a  man  laughs,  and  another,  who  hears, 
becomes  merry;  or  a  man  weeps,  and  another,  who  hears, 
feels  sorrow.  Note  in  passing  that  it  does  not  amount  to 


art  "if  a  man  infects  others  directly,  immediately,  at  the  very 
time  he  experiences  the  feeling;  if  he  causes  another  man 
to  yawn  when  he  himself  cannot  help  yawning,"  etc.  Art 
begins  when  some  one,  with  the  object  of  making  others  share 
his  feeling^  expresses  his  feeling  by  certain  external  indica 

Normal  human  beings  possess  this  faculty  to  be  infected 
by  the  expression  of  another  man's  emotions.  For  a  plain 
man  of  unperverted  taste,  living  in  contact  with  nature, 
with  animals,  and  with  his  fellow-men — say,  for  "a  country 
peasant  of  unperverted  taste,  this  is  as  easy  as  it  is  for 
an  animal  of  unspoilt  scent  to  follow  the  trace  he  needs." 
And  he  will  know  indubitably  whether  a  work  presented 
to  him  does,  or  does  not,  unite  him  in  feeling  with  the 
author.  But  very  many  people  "of  our  circle"  (upper 
and  middle  class  society)  live  such  unnatural  lives,  in 
such  conventional  relations  to  the  people  around  them, 
and  in  such  artificial  surroundings,  that  they  have  lost 
"that  simple  feeling,  that  sense  of  infection  with  another's 
feeling  —  compelling  us  to  joy  in  another's  gladness,  to 
sorrow  in  another's  grief,  and  to  mingle  souls  with  another 
— which  is  the  essence  of  art."  Such  people,  therefore,  have 
no  inner  test  by  which  to  recognise  a  work  of  art;  and  they 
will  always  be  mistaking  other  things  for  art,  and  seeking 
for  external  guides,  such  as  the  opinions  of  "recognised 
authorities."  Or  they  will  mistake  for  art  something  that 
produces  a  merely  physiological  effect — lulling  or  exciting 
them;  or  some  intellectual  puzzle  that  gives  them  some 
thing  to  think  about. 

But  if  most  people  of  the  "cultured  crowd"  are  im 
pervious  to  true  art,  is  it  really  possible  that  a  common 
Russian  country  peasant,  for  instance,  whose  work-days  are 
filled  with  agricultural  labour,  and  whose  brief  leisure  is 
largely  taken  up  by  his  family  life  and  by  his  participation 
in  the  affairs  of  the  village  commune — is  it  possible  that  he 


can  recognise  and  be  touched  by  works  of  art  ?  Certainly 
it  is  !  Just  as  in  ancient  Greece  crowds  assembled  to  hear 
the  poems  of  Homer,  so  to-day  in  Russia,  as  in  many 
countries  and  many  ages,  the  Gospel  parables,  and  much 
else  of  the  highest  art,  are  gladly  heard  by  the  common 
people.  And  this  does  not  refer  to  any  superstitious  use 
of  the  Bible,  but  to  its  use  as  literature. 

Not  only  do  normal,  labouring  country  people  possess  the 
capacity  to  be  infected  by  good  art — "the  epic  of  Genesis, 
folk-legends,  fairy-tales,  folk-songs,  etc.,"  but  they  them 
selves  produce  songs,  stories,  dances,  decorations,  etc., 
which  are  works  of  true  art.  Take  as  examples  the  works  of 
Burns  or  Bunyan,  and  the  peasant  women's  song  mentioned 
by  Tolstoy  in  Chapter  XIV.,  or  some  of  those  melodies  pro 
duced  by  the  negro  slaves  on  the  southern  plantations,  which 
have  touched,  and  still  touch,  many  of  us  with  the  emotions 
felt  by  their  unknown  and  unpaid  composers. 

The  one  great  quality  which  makes  a  work  of  art  truly 
contagious  is  its  sincerity.  If  an  artist  is  really  actuated  by 
a  feeling,  and  is  strongly  impelled  to  communicate  that 
feeling  to  other  people — not  for  money  or  fame,  or  anything 
else,  but  because  he  feels  he  must  share  it — then  he  will  not 
be  satisfied  till  he  has  found  a  clear  way  of  expressing  it. 
And  the  man  who  is  not  borrowing  his  feelings,  but  has 
drawn  what  he  expresses  from  the  depths  of  his  nature, 
is  sure  to  be  original^  for  in  the  same  way  that  no  two 
people  have  exactly  similar  faces  or  forms,  no  two  people 
have  exactly  similar  minds  or  souls. 

That  in  briefest  outline  is  what  Tolstoy  says  about  art, 
considered  apart  from  its  subject-matter.  And  this  is  how 
certain  critics  have  met  it.  They  say  that  when  Tolstoy 
says  the  test  of  art  is  internal,  he  must  mean  that  it  is 
external.  When  he  says  that  country  peasants  have  in  the 
past  appreciated,  and  do  still  appreciate,  works  of  the 
highest  art,  he  means  that  the  way  to  detect  a  work  of 


art  is  to  see  what  is  apparently  most  popular  among  the 
masses.  Go  into  the  streets  or  music-halls  of  the  cities  in 
any  particular  country  and  year,  and  observe  what  is  most 
frequently  sung,  shouted,  or  played  on  the  barrel-organs. 
It  may  happen  to  be 

"  Tarara-boom-deay," 

"  We  don't  want  to  fight, 
But,  by  Jingo,  if  we  do." 

But  whatever  it  is,  you  may  at  once  declare  these  songs  to 
be  the  highest  musical  art,  without  even  pausing  to  ask  to 
what  they  owe  their  vogue — what  actress,  or  singer,  or 
politician,  or  wave  of  patriotic  passion  has  conduced  to 
their  popularity.  Nor  need  you  consider  whether  that 
popularity  is  not  merely  temporary  and  local.  Tolstoy 
has  said  that  works  of  the  highest  art  are  understood  by 
unperverted  country  peasants — and  here  are  things  which 
are  popular  with  the  mob,  ergo,  these  things  must  be  the 
highest  art. 

The  critics  then  proceed  to  say  that  such  a  test  is  utterly 
absurd.  And  on  this  point  I  am  able  to  agree  with  the  critics. 

Some  of  these  writers  commence  their  articles  by  saying 
that  Tolstoy  is  a  most  profound  thinker,  a  great  prophet, 
an  intellectual  force,  etc.  Yet  when  Tolstoy,  in  his  em 
phatic  way,  makes  the  sweeping  remark  that  "good  art 
always  pleases  every  one,"  the  critics  do  not  read  on  to 
find  out  what  he  means,  but  reply:  "No!  good  art  does 
not  please  every  one ;  some  people  are  colour-blind,  and 
some  are  deaf,  or  have  no  ear  for  music." 

It  is  as  though  a  man  strenuously  arguing  a  point  were  to 
say,  "  Every  one  knows  that  two  and  two  make  four,"  and 
a  boy  who  did  not  at  all  see  what  the  speaker  was  driving 
at,  were  to  reply :  "  No,  our  new-born  baby  doesn't  know 
it ! "  It  would  distract  attention  from  the  subject  in  hand, 
but  it  would  not  elucidate  matters. 


There  is,  of  course,  a  verbal  contradiction  between  the 
statements  that  "good  art  always  pleases  every  one" 
(p.  100),  and  the  remark  concerning  "people  of  our 
circle,"  who,  "  with  very  few  exceptions,  artists  and  public 
and  critics,  .  .  .  cannot  distinguish  true  works  of  art 
from  counterfeits,  but  continually  mistake  for  real  art  the 
worst  and  most  artificial"  (p.  151).  But  I  venture  to  think 
that  any  one  of  intelligence,  and  free  from  prejudice,  read 
ing  this  book  carefully,  need  not  fail  to  reach  the  author's 

A  point  to  be  carefully  noted  is  the  distinction  between 
science  and  art.  "Science  investigates  and  brings  to 
human  perception  such  truths  and  such  knowledge  as 
the  people  of  a  given  time  and  society  consider  most 
important.  Art  transmits  these  truths  from  the  region 
of  perception  to  the  region  of -emotion"  (p.  102).  Science 
is  an  "activity  of  the  understanding  which  demands 
preparation  and  a  certain  sequence  of  knowledge,  so  that 
one  cannot  learn  trigonometry  before  knowing  geometry." 
"The  business  of  art,"  on  the  other  hand,  "lies  just  in 
this — to  make  that  understood  and  felt  which,  in  the 
form  of  an  argument,  might  be  incomprehensible  and 
inaccessible"  (p.  102).  It  "infects  any  man  whatever  his 
plane  of  development,"  and  "the  hindrance  to  under 
standing  the  best  and  highest  feelings  (as  is  said  in  the 
gospel)  does  not  at  all  lie  in  deficiency  of  development 
or  learning,  but,  on  the  contrary,  in  false  development 
and  false  learning"  (pp.  102,  103).  Science  and  art  are 
frequently  blended  in  one  work — e.g.,  in  the  gospel  elucida 
tion  of  Christ's  comprehension  of  life,  or,  to  take  a  modern 
instance,  in  Henry  George's  elucidation  of  the  land  question 
in  Progress  and  Poverty. 

The  class  distinction  to  which  Tolstoy  repeatedly  alludes 
needs  some  explanation.  The  position  of  the  lower  classes 
in  England  and  in  Russia  is  different.  In  Russia  a  much 


larger  number  of  people  live  on  the  verge  of  starvation ; 
the  condition  of  the  factory-hands  is  much  worse  than 
in  England,  and  there  are  many  glaring  cases  of  brutal 
cruelty  inflicted  on  the  peasants  by  the  officials,  the  police, 
or  the  military, — but  in  Russia  a  far  greater  proportion  of 
the  population  live  in  the  country,  and  a  peasant  usually 
has  his  own  house,  and  tills  his  share  of  the  communal 
lands.  The  "unperverted  country  peasant"  of  whom 
Tolstoy  speaks  is  a  man  who  perhaps  suffers  grievous 
want  when  there  is  a  bad  harvest  in  his  province,  but 
he  is  a  man  accustomed  to  the  experiences  of  a  natural 
life,  to  the  management  of  his  own  affairs,  and  to  a 
real  voice  in  the  arrangements  of  the  village  commune. 
The  Government  interferes,  from  time  to  time,  to  collect 
its  taxes  by  force,  to  take  the  young  men  for  soldiers,  or 
to  maintain  the  "  rights  "  of  the  upper  classes ;  but  other 
wise  the  peasant  is  free  to  do  what  he  sees  to  be  necessary 
and  reasonable.  On  the  other  hand,  English  labourers 
are,  for  the  most  part,  not  so  poor,  they  have  more  legal 
rights,  and  they  have  votes;  but  a  far  larger  number  of 
them  live  in  towns  and  are  engaged  in  unnatural  occupa 
tions,  while  even  those  that  do  live  in  touch  with  nature 
are  usually  mere  wage-earners,  tilling  other  men's  land, 
and  living  often  in  abject  submission  to  the  farmer,  the 
parson,  or  the  lady-bountiful.  They  are  dependent  on 
an  employer  for  daily  bread,  and  the  condition  of  a  wage- 
labourer  is  as  unnatural  as  that  of  a  landlord. 

The  tyranny  of  the  St.  Petersburg  bureaucracy  is  more 
dramatic,  but  less  omnipresent — and  probably  far  less  fatal  to 
the  capacity  to  enjoy  art — than  the  tyranny  of  our  respectable, 
self-satisfied,  and  property-loving  middle-class.  I  am  there 
fore  afraid  that  we  have  no  great  number  of  "unperverted  " 
country  labourers  to  compare  with  those  of  whom  Tolstoy 
speaks — and  some  of  whom  I  have  known  personally. 
But  the  truth  Tolstoy  elucidates  lies  far  too  deep  in 


human  nature  to  be  infringed  by  such  differences  or 
local  circumstance.  Whatever  those  circumstances  may 
be,  the  fact  remains  that  in  proportion  as  a  man  approaches 
towards  the  condition  not  only  of  "  earning  his  subsistence 
by  some  kind  of  labour,"  but  of  "living  on  all  its  sides 
the  life  natural  and  proper  to  mankind,"  his  capacity  to 
appreciate  true  art  tends  to  increase.  On  the  other  hand, 
when  a  class  settles  down  into  an  artificial  way  of  life, — 
loses  touch  with  nature,  becomes  confused  in  its  perceptions 
of  what  is  good  and  what  is  bad,  and  prefers  the  condition 
of  a  parasite  to  that  of  a  producer, — its  capacity  to  appre 
ciate  true  art  must  diminish.  Having  lost  all  clear  perception 
of  the  meaning  of  life,  such  people  are  necessarily  left 
without  any  criterion  which  will  enable  them  to  distinguish 
good  from  bad  art,  and  they  are  sure  to  follow  eagerly  after 
beauty,  or  "that  which  pleases  them." 

The  artists  of  our  society  can  usually  only  reach 
people  of  the  upper  and  middle  classes.  But  who  is  the 
great  artist? — he  who  delights  a  select  audience  of  his 
own  day  and  class,  or  he  whose  works  link  generation  to 
generation  and  race  to  race  in  a  common  bond  of  feeling  ?• 
Surely  art  should  fulfil  its  purpose  as  completely  as  possible. 
A  work  of  art  that  united  every  one  with  the  author, 
and  with  one  another,  would  be  perfect  art.  Tolstoy,  in 
his  emphatic  way,  speaks  of  works  of  "universal"  art, 
and  (though  the  profound  critics  hasten  to  inform  us  that 
no  work  of  art  ever  reached  everybody)  certainly  the 
more  nearly  a  work  of  art  approaches  to  such  ex 
pression  of  feeling  that  every  one  may  be  infected  by  it 
— the  nearer  (apart  from  all  question  of  subject-matter) 
it  approaches  perfection. 

But  now  as  to  subject-matter.  The  subject-matter  of  art 
consists  of  feelings  which  can  be  spread  from  man  to  man, 
feelings  which  are  "  contagious  "  or  "infectious."  Is  it  of  no- 
importance  what  feelings  increase  and  multiply  among  men  ? 


One  man  feels  that  submission  to  the  authority  of  his 
church,  and  belief  in  all  that  it  teaches  him,  is  good;  another 
is  embued  by  a  sense  of  each  man's  duty  to  think  with  his 
own  head — to  use  for  his  guidance  in  life  the  reason  and 
conscience  given  to  him.  One  man  feels  that  his  nation 
ought  to  wipe  out  in  blood  the  shame  of  a  defeat  inflicted 
on  her;  another  feels  that  we  are  brothers,  sons  of  one 
spirit,  and  that  the  slaughter  of  man  by  man  is  always 
wrong.  One  man  feels  that  the  most  desirable  thing  in 
life  is  the  satisfaction  obtainable  by  the  love  of  women ; 
another  man  feels  that  sex-love  is  an  entanglement  and  a 
snare,  hindering  his  real  work  in  life.  And  each  of  these, 
if  he  possess  an  artist's  gift  of  expression,  and  if  the 
feeling  be  really  his  own  and  sincere,  may  infect  other 
men.  But  some  of  these  feelings  will  benefit  and  some 
will  harm  mankind,  and  the  more  widely  they  are  spread 
the  greater  will  be  their  effect. 

Art  unites  men.  Surely  it  is  desirable  that  the  feelings 
in  which  it  unites  them  should  be  "the  best  and  highest 
to  which  men  have  risen,"  or  at  least  should  not  run 
contrary  to  our  perception  of  what  makes  for  the  well- 
being  of  ourselves  and  of  others.  And  our  perception 
of  what  makes  for  the  well-being  of  ourselves  and  of 
others  is  what  Tolstoy  calls  our  "religious  perception." 

Therefore  the  subject-matter  of  what  we,  in  our  day, 
can  esteem  as  being  the  best  art,  can  be  of  two  kinds 
only — • 

(1)  Feelings   flowing    from    the  highest   perception  now 
attainable  by  man  of  our  right  relation  to  our  neighbour 
and     to     the    Source    from    which    we    come.      Dickens' 
"  Christmas    Carol,"  uniting  us  in  a  more  vivid  sense  of 
compassion  and  love,  is  a  ready  example  of  such  art. 

(2)  The   simple   feelings   of   common  life,  accessible  to 
every  one — provided  that  they  are  such  as  do  not  hinder 
progress  towards  well-being.      Art  of  this  kind  makes  us 


realise  to  how  great  an  extent  we  already  are  members 
one  of  another — sharing  the  feelings  of  one  common  human 

The  success  of  a  very  primitive  novel — the  story  of 
Joseph,  which  made  its  way  into  the  sacred  books  of  the 
Jews,  spread  from  land  to  land  and  from  age  to  age,  and 
continues  to  be  read  to-day  among  people  quite  free  from 
bibliolatry — shows  how  nearly  "  universal "  may  be  the 
appeal  of  this  kind  of  art.  This  branch  includes  all 
harmless  jokes,  folk-stories,  nursery  rhymes,  and  even  dolls, 
if  only  the  author  or  designer  has  expressed  a  feeling 
(tenderness,  pleasure,  humour,  or  what  not)  so  as  to  infect 

But  how  are  we  to  know  what  are  the  "  best "  feelings  ? 
What  is  good?  and  what  is  evil?  This  is  decided  by 
"religious  perception."  Some  such  perception  exists  in 
every  human  being;  there  is  always  something  he  approves 
of,  and  something  he  disapproves  of.  Reason  and  con 
science  are  always  present,  active  or  latent,  as  long  as 
man  lives.  Miss  Flora  Shaw  tells  that  the  most  degraded 
cannibal  she  ever  met,  drew  the  line  at  eating  his  own 
mother — nothing  would  induce  him  to  entertain  the  thought, 
his  moral  sense  was  revolted  by  the  suggestion.  In  most 
societies  the  "  religious  perception,"  to  which  they  have 
advanced, — the  foremost  stage  in  mankind's  long  march 
towards  perfection,  which  has  been  discerned, — has  been 
clearly  expressed  by  some  one,  and  more  or  less  con 
sciously  accepted  as  an  ideal  by  the  many.  But  there 
are  transition  periods  in  history  when  the  worn-out  for 
mularies  of  a  past  age  have  ceased  to  satisfy  men,  or 
have  become  so  incrusted  with  superstitions  that  their 
original  brightness  is  lost.  The  ''religious  perception" 
that  is  dawning  may  not  yet  have  found  such  expression  as 
to  be  generally  understood,  but  for  all  that  it  exists,  and 
shows  itself  by  compelling  men  to  repudiate  beliefs  that 


satisfied  their  forefathers,  the  outward  and  visible  signs  of 
which  are  still  endowed  and  dominant  long  after  their  spirit 
has  taken  refuge  in  temples  not  made  with  hands. 

At  such  times  it  is  difficult  for  men  to  understand  each 
other,  for  the  very  words  needed  to  express  the  deepest 
experiences  of  men's  consciousness  mean  different  things  to 
different  men.  So  among  us  to-day,  to  many  minds  faith 
means  credulity^  and  God  suggests  a  person  of  the  male 
sex,  father  of  one  only-begotten  son,  and  creator  of  the 

This  is  why  Tolstoy's  clear  and  rational  "  religious  per 
ception,"  expressed  in  the  books  named  on  a  previous  page, 
is  frequently  spoken  of  by  people  who  have  not  grasped  it, 
as  "  mysticism." 

The  narrow  materialist  is  shocked  to  find  that  Tolstoy 
will  not  confine  himself  to  the  "objective"  view  of  life. 
Encountering  in  himself  that  "inner  voice"  which  compels 
us  all  to  choose  between  good  and  evil,  Tolstoy  refuses  to  be 
diverted  from  a  matter  which  is  of  immediate  and  vital 
importance  to  him,  by  discussions  as  to  the  derivation  of 
the  external  manifestations  of  conscience  which  biologists 
are  able  to  detect  in  remote  forms  of  life.  The  real  mystic, 
on  the  other  hand,  shrinks  from  Tolstoy's  desire  to  try  all 
things  by  the  light  of  reason,  to  depend  on  nothing  vague, 
and  to  accept  nothing  on  authority.  The  man  who  does 
not  trust  his  own  reason,  fears  that  life  thus  squarely  faced 
will  prove  less  worth  having  than  it  is  when  clothed  in 

In  this  work,  however,  Tolstoy  does  not  recapitulate  at 
length  what  he  has  said  before.  He  does  not  pause  to 
re-explain  why  he  condemns  Patriotism — i.e.,  each  man's 
preference  for  the  predominance  of  his  own  country,  which 
leads  to  the  murder  of  man  by  man  in  war ;  or  Churches, 
which  are  sectarian — i.e.,  which  striving'  to  assert  that  your 
doxy  is  heterodoxy,  but  that  our  doxy  is  orthodoxy,  make 


external  authorities  (Popes,  Bibles,  Councils)  supreme,  and 
cling  to  superstitions  (their  oivn  miracles,  legends,  and 
myths),  thus  separating  themselves  from  communion  with 
the  rest  of  mankind.  Nor  does  he  re-explain  why  he  (like 
Christ)  says  "  pitiable  is  your  plight — ye  rich,"  who  live 
artificial  lives,  maintainable  only  by  the  unbrotherly  use  of 
force  (police;  and  soldiers),  but  blessed  are  ye  poor — who, 
by  your  way  of  life,  are  within  easier  reach  of  brotherly  con 
ditions,  if  you  will  but  trust  to  reason  and  conscience,  and 
change  the  direction  of  your  hearts  and  of  your  labour, — 
working  no  more  primarily  from  fear  or  greed,  but  seeking 
first  the  kingdom  of  righteousness,  in  which  all  good  things 
will  be  added  unto  you.  He  merely  summarises  it  all  in  a 
few  sentences,  defining  the  "  religious  perception  "  of  to-day, 
which  alone  can  decide  for  us  "the  degree  of  importance 
both  of  the  feelings  transmitted  by  art  and  of  the  informa 
tion  transmitted  by  science." 

"  The  religious  perception  of  our  time,  in  its  widest  and 
most  practical  application,  is  the  consciousness  that  our 
well-being,  both  material  and  spiritual,  individual  and 
collective,  temporal  and  eternal,  lies  in  the  growth  of 
brotherhood  among  men — in  their  loving  harmony  with 
one  another"  (p.  159). 

And  again  : 

"  However  differently  in  form  people  belonging  to  our 
Christian  world  may  define  the  destiny  of  man ;  whether 
they  see  it  in  human  progress  in  whatever  sense  of  the 
words,  in  the  union  of  all  men  in  a  socialistic  realm,  or  in 
the  establishment  of  a  commune;  whether  they  look  forward 
to  the  union  of  mankind  under  the  guidance  of  one  universal 
Church,  or  to  the  federation  of  the  world, — however 
various  in  form  their  definitions  of  the  destination  of  human 
life  may  be,  all  men  in  our  times  already  admit  that  the 
highest  well-being  attainable  by  men  is  to  be  reached  by 
their  union  with  one  another"  (p.  188). 



This  is  the  foundation  on  which  the  whole  work  is  based. 

It  follows  necessarily  from  this  perception  that  we  should 
consider  as  most  important  in  science  "investigations  into 
the  results  of  good  and  bad  actions,  considerations  of  the 
reasonableness  or  unreasonableness  of  human  institutions 
and  beliefs,  considerations  of  how  human  life  should  be 
lived  in  order  to  obtain  the  greatest  well-being  for  each;  as 
to  what  one  may  and  ought,  and  what  one  cannot  and 
should  not  believe;  how  to  subdue  one's  passions,  and  how 
to  acquire  the  habit  of  virtue."  This  is  the  science  that 
"  occupied  Moses,  Solon,  Socrates,  Epictetus,  Confucius, 
Mencius,  Marcus  Aurelius,  Spinoza,  and  all  those  who  have 
taught  men  to  live  a  moral  life,"  and  it  is  precisely  the  kind 
of  scientific  investigation  to  which  Tolstoy  has  devoted  most 
of  the  last  twenty  years,  and  for  the  sake  of  which  he  is 
often  said  to  have  "  abandoned  art." 

Since  science,  like  art,  is  a  "  human  activity,"  that  science 
best  deserves  our  esteem,  best  deserves  to  be  "chosen, 
tolerated,  approved,  and  diffused,"  which  treats  of  what  is 
supremely  important  to  man ;  which  deals  with  urgent, 
vital,  inevitable  problems  of  actual  life.  Such  science  as 
this  brings  "to  the  consciousness  of  men  the  truths  that 
flow  from  the  religious  perception  of  our  times,"  and 
"indicates  the  various  methods  of  applying  this  conscious 
ness  to  life."  "Art  should  transform  this  perception  into 

The  "  science  "  which  is  occupied  in  "pouring  liquids 
from  one  jar  into  another,  or  analysing  the  spectrum,  or 
cutting  up  frogs  and  porpoises,"  is  no  use  for  rendering  such 
guidance  to  art,  though  capable  of  practical  applications 
which,  under  a  more  righteous  system  of  society,  might 
greatly  have  lightened  the  sufferings  of  mankind. 

Naturally  enough,  the  last  chapter  of  the  book  deals  with 
the  relation  between  science  and  art.  And  the  conclusion 
is  that : 


"  The  destiny  of  art  in  our  time  is  to  transmit  from  the 
realm  of  reason  to  the  realm  of  feeling  the  truth  that  well- 
being  for  men  consists  in  being  united  together,  and  to  set 
up,  in  place  of  the  existing  reign  of  force,  that  kingdom  of 
God,  i.e.  of  love,  which  we  all  recognise  to  be  the  highest 
aim  of  human  life." 

And  this  art  of  the  future  will  not  be  poorer,  but  far 
,  richer,  in  subject-matter  than  the  art  of  to-day.  From  the 
lullaby — that  will  delight  millions  of  people,  generation  after 
generation — to  the  highest  religious  art,  dealing  with  strong, 
rich,  and  varied  emotions  flowing  from  a  fresh  outlook  upon 
life  and  all  its  problems— the  field  open  for  good  art  is 
enormous.  With  so  much  to  say  that  is  urgently  important 
to  all,  the  art  of  the  future  will,  in  matter  of  form  also,  be 
far  superior  to  our  art  in  "  clearness,  beauty,  simplicity,  and 
compression  "  (p.  194). 

For  beauty  (i.e.,  "that  which  pleases'"') — though  it  depends 
on  taste,  and  can  furnish  no  criterion  for  art — will  be  a 
natural  characteristic  of  work  done,  not  for  hire,  nor  even 
for  fame,  but  because  men,  living  a  natural  and  healthy  life, 
wish  to  share  the  "  highest  spiritual  strength  which  passes 
through  them  "  with  the  greatest  possible  number  of  others. 
The  feelings  such  an  artist  wishes  to  share,  he  will  transmit 
in  a  way  that  will  please  him,  and  will  please  other  men 
who  share  his  nature. 

Morality  is  in  the  nature  of  things — we  cannot  escape  it. 

In  a  society  where  each  man  sets  himself  to  obtain 
wealth,  the  difficulty  of  obtaining  an  honest  living  tends  to 
become  greater  and  greater.  The  more  keenly  a  society 
pants  to  obtain  "that  which  pleases,"  and  puts  this  for 
ward  as  the  first  and  great  consideration,  the  more  puerile 
and  worthless  will  their  art  become.  But  in  a  society  which 
sought,  primarily,  for  right  relations  between  its  members, 
an  abundance  would  easily  be  obtainable  for  all ;  and 
when  "  religious  perception  "  guides  a  people's  art — beauty 


inevitably  results,  as  has  always  been  the  case  when  men 
have  seized  a  fresh  perception  of  life  and  of  its  purpose. 

An  illustration  which  Tolstoy  struck  out  of  the  work 
while  it  was  being  printed,  may  serve  to  illustrate  how,  with 
the  aid  of  the  principles  explained  above,  we  may  judge  of 
the  merits  of  any  work  professing  to  be  art. 

Take  Romeo  and  Juliet.  The  conventional  view  is  that 
Shakespear  is  the  greatest  of  artists,  and  that  Romeo  and 
Juliet  is  one  of  his  good  plays.  Why  this  is  so  nobody  can 
tell  you.  It  is  so :  that  is  the  way  certain  people  feel  about 
it.  They  are  "  the  authorities,"  and  to  doubt  their  dictum 
is  to  show  that  you  know  nothing  about  art.  Tolstoy  does 
not  agree  with  them  in  their  estimate  of  Shakespear, 
therefore  Tolstoy  is  wrong  ! 

But  now  let  us  apply  Tolstoy's  view  of  art  to  Romeo 
and  Juliet.  He  does  not  deny  that  it  infects.  "  Let  us 
admit  that  it  is  a  work  of  art,  that  it  infects  (though  it  is  so 
artificial  that  it  can  infect  only  those  who  have  been  care 
fully  educated  thereunto);  but  what  are  the  feelings  it 
transmits  ?  " 

That  is  to  say,  judging  by  the  infernal  test,  Tolstoy 
admits  that  Romeo  and  Juliet  unites  him  to  its  author  and 
to  other  people  in  feeling.  But  the  work  is  very  far  from 
being  one  of  "  universal "  art — only  a  small  minority  of 
people  ever  have  cared,  or  ever  will  care,  for  it.  Even  in 
England,  or  even  in  the  layer  of  European  society  it 
is  best  adapted  to  reach,  it  only  touches  a  minority,  and 
does  not  approach  the  universality  attained  by  the  story  of 
Joseph  and  many  pieces  of  folk-lore. 

But  perhaps  the  subject-matter,  the  feeling  with  which 
Romeo  and  Juliet  infects  those  whom  it  does  reach,  lifts  it 
into  the  class  of  the  highest  religious  art?  Not  so.  The 
feeling  is  one  of  the  attractiveness  of  "love  at  first  sight." 
A  girl  fourteen  years  old  and  a  young  man  meet  at  an 


aristocratic  party,  where  there  is  feasting  and  pleasure  and 
idleness,  and,  without  knowing  each  other's  minds,  they 
fall  in  love  as  the  birds  and  beasts  do.  If  any  feeling  is 
transmitted  to  us,  it  is  the  feeling  that  there  is  a  pleasure  in 
these  things.  Somewhere,  in  most  natures,  there  dwells, 
dominant  or  dormant,  an  inclination  to  let  such  physical 
sexual  attraction  guide  our  course  in  life.  To  give  it  a  plain 
name,  it  is  "sensuality."  "How  can  I,  father  or  mother  of 
a  daughter  of  Juliet's  age,  wish  that  those  foul  feelings 
which  the  play  transmits  should  be  communicated  to  my 
daughter?  And  if  the  feelings  transmitted  by  the  play 
are  bad,  how  can  I  call  it  good  in  subject-matter?" 

But,  objects  a  friend,  the  moral  of  Romeo  and  Juliet  is 
excellent.  See  what  disasters  followed  from  the  physical 
"love  at  first  sight."  But  that  is  quite  another  matter. 
It  is  the  feelings  with  which  you  are  infected  when  reading, 
and  not  any  moral  you  can  deduce,  that  is  subject-matter 
of  art.  Pondering  upon  the  consequences  that  flow  from 
Romeo  and  Juliet's  behaviour  may  belong  to  the  domain 
of  moral  science,  but  not  to  that  of  art. 

I  have  hesitated  to  use  an  illustration  Tolstoy  had  struck 
out,  but  I  think  it  serves  its  purpose.  No  doubt  there  are 
other,  subordinate,  feelings  (e.g.  humour)  to  be  found  in 
Romeo  and  Juliet ;  but  many  quaint  conceits  that  are  in 
genious,  and  have  been  much  admired,  are  not,  I  think, 

Tried  by  such  tests,  the  enormous  majority  of  the  things 
we  have  been  taught  to  consider  great  works  of  art  are 
found  wanting.  Either  they  fail  to  infect  (and  attract 
merely  by  being  interesting,  realistic,  effectful,  or  by  bor 
rowing  from  others),  and  are  therefore  not  works  of  art  at 
all;  or  they  are  works  of  "exclusive  art,"  bad  in  form  and 
capable  of  infecting  only  a  select  audience  trained  and 
habituated  to  such  inferior  art ;  or  they  are  bad  in  subject- 
matter,  transmitting  feelings  harmful  to  mankind. 


Tolstoy  does  not  shrink  from  condemning  his  own 
artistic  productions;  with  the  exception  of  two  short  stories, 
he  tells  us  they  are  works  of  bad  art.  Take,  for  instance, 
the  novel  Resurrection,  which  is  now  appearing,  and  of 
which  he  has,  somewhere,  spoken  disparagingly,  as  being 
"written  in  my  former  style,"  and  being  therefore  bad  art. 
What  does  this  mean  ?  The  book  is  a  masterpiece  in  its 
own  line ;  it  is  eagerly  read  in  many  languages ;  it  un 
doubtedly  infects  its  readers,  and  the  feelings  transmitted 
are,  in  the  main,  such  as  Tolstoy  approves  of — in  fact,  they  are 
the  feelings  to  which  his  religious  perception  has  brought 
him.  If  lust  is  felt  in  one  chapter,  the  reaction  follows 
as  inevitably  as  in  real  life,  and  is  transmitted  with  great 
artistic  power.  Why  a  work  of  such  rare  merit  does  not 
satisfy  Tolstoy,  is  because  it  is  a  work  of  "exclusive 
art,"  laden  with  details  of  time  and  place.  It  has  not  the 
"  simplicity  and  compression"  necessary  in  works  of  "uni 
versal  "  art.  Things  are  mentioned  which  might  apparently 
be  quite  well  omitted.  The  style,  also,  is  not  one  of  great 
simplicity;  the  sentences  are  often  long  and  involved,  as  is 
commonly  the  case  in  Tolstoy's  writings.  It  is  a  novel 
appealing  mainly  to  the  class  that  has  leisure  for  novel  read 
ing  because  it  neglects  to  produce  its  own  food,  make  its  own 
clothes,  or  build  its  own  houses.  If  Tolstoy  is  stringent  in 
his  judgment  of  other  artists,  he  is  more  stringent  still  in 
his  judgment  of  his  own  artistic  works'  Had  Resurrec 
tion  been  written  by  Dickens,  or  by  Hugo,  Tolstoy  would,  I 
think,  have  found  a  place  for  it  (with  whatever  reservations) 
among  the  examples  of  religious  art.  For  indeed,  strive  as 
we  may  to  be  clear  and  explicit,  our  approval  and  dis 
approval  is  a  matter  of  degree.  The  thought  which  under 
lay  the  remark:  "  Why  callest  thou  me  good?  none  is  good, 
save  one,  even  God,"  applies  not  to  man  only,  but  to  all 
things  human. 

What    is   Art?    itself    is    a    work    of    science — though 


many  passages,  and  even  some  whole  chapters,  appeal  to  us 
as  works  of  art,  and  we  feel  the  contagion  of  the  author's  hope, 
his  anxiety  to  serve  the  cause  of  truth  and  love,  his  indig 
nation  (sometimes  rather  sharply  expressed)  with  what 
blocks  the  path  of  advance,  and  his  contempt  for  much 
that  the  "cultured  crowd,"  in  our  erudite,  perverted  society, 
have  persuaded  themselves,  and  would  fain  persuade  others, 
is  the  highest  art. 

One  result  which  follows  inevitably  from  Tolstoy's  view 
(and  which  illustrates  how  widely  his  views  differ  from  the 
fashionable  aesthetic  mysticism),  is  that  art  is  not  stationary 
but  progressive.  It  is  true  that  our  highest  religious  per 
ception  found  expression  eighteen  hundred  years  ago,  and 
then  served  as  the  basis  of  an  art  which  is  still  un 
matched;  and  similar  cases  can  be  instanced  from  the 
East.  But  allowing  for  such  great  exceptions, — to  which, 
not  inaptly,  the  term  of  "  inspiration  "  has  been  specially 
applied,— the  subject-matter  of  art  improves,  though  long 
periods  of  time  may  have  to  be  considered  in  order  to 
make  this  obvious.  Our  power  of  verbal  expression,  for 
instance,  may  now  be  no  better  than  it  was  in  the  days  of 
David,  but  we  must  no  longer  esteem  as  good  in  subject- 
matter  poems  which  appeal  to  the  Eternal  to  destroy  a 
man's  private  or  national  foes ;  for  we  have  reached  a 
"religious  perception"  which  bids  us  have  no  foes,  and 
the  ultimate  source  (undefinable  by  us)  from  which  this 
consciousness  has  come,  is  what  we  mean  when  we  speak 
of  God. 


2yd  March  1899. 

THIS  book  of  mine,  "What  is  Art?"  appears  now  for  the 
first  time  in  its  true  form.  More  than  one  edition  has 
already  been  issued  in  Russia,  but  in  each  case  it  has  been 
so  mutilated  by  the  "Censor,"  that  I  request  all  who  are 
interested  in  my  views  on  art  only  to  judge  of  them  by 
the  work  in  its  present  shape.  The  causes  which  led  to 
the  publication  of  the  book — with  my  name  attached  to 
it — in  a  mutilated  form,  were  the  following : — In  accord 
ance  with  a  decision  I  arrived  at  long  ago, — not  to  submit 
my  writings  to  the  "  Censorship "  (which  I  consider  to  be 
an  immoral  and  irrational  institution),  but  to  print  them 
only  in  the  shape  in  which  they  were  written, — I  intended 
not  to  attempt  to  print  this  work  in  Russia.  However, 
my  good  acquaintance  Professor  Grote,  editor  of  a  Moscow 
psychological  magazine,  having  heard  of  the  contents  of  my 
work,  asked  me  to  print  it  in  his  magazine,  and  promised 
me  that  he  would  get  the  book  through  the  "  Censor's " 
office  unmutilated  if  I  would  but  agree  to  a  few  very 
unimportant  alterations,  merely  toning  down  certain  ex 
pressions.  I  was  weak  enough  to  agree  to  this,  and  it 
has  resulted  in  a  book  appearing,  under  my  name,  from 
which  not  only  have  some  essential  thoughts  been  excluded, 
but  into  which  the  thoughts  of  other  men — even  thoughts 
utterly  opposed  to  my  own  convictions — have  been  intro 


The  thing  occurred  in  this  way.  First,  Grote  softened 
my  expressions,  and  in  some  cases  weakened  them.  For 
instance,  he  replaced  the  words :  always  by  sometimes,  all 
hy  some,  Church  religion  by  Roman  Catholic  religion, 
"Mother  of  God"  by  Madonna,  patriotism  by  pseudo- 
patriotism,  palaces  by  palatii,1  etc.,  and  I  did  not  consider 
it  necessary  to  protest.  But  when  the  book  was  already 
in  type,  the  Censor  required  that  whole  sentences  should 
be  altered,  and  that  instead  of  what  I  said  about  the  evil 
of  landed  property,  a  remark  should  be  substituted  on  the 
evils  of  a  landless  proletariat.2  I  agreed  to  this  also  and 
to  some  further  alterations.  It  seemed  not  worth  while 
to  upset  the  whole  affair  for  the  sake  of  one  sentence,  and 
when  one  alteration  had  been  agreed  to  it  seemed  not 
worth  while  to  protest  against  a  second  and  a  third.  So, 
little  by  little,  expressions  crept  into  the  book  which 
altered  the  sense  and  attributed  things  to  me  that  I  could 
not  have  wished  to  say.  So  that  by  the  time  the  book 
was  printed  it  had  been  deprived  of  some  part  of  its 
integrity  and  sincerity.  But  there  was  consolation  in  the 
thought  that  the  book,  even  in  this  form,  if  it  contains 
something  that  is  good,  would  be  of  use  to  Eussian  readers 
whom  it  would  otherwise  not  have  reached.  Things,  how- 

1  Tolstoy's  remarks  on  Church  religion  were  re- worded  so  as  to  seem 
to  relate  only  to  the  Western  Church,  and  his  disapproval  of  luxurious 
life  was  made  to  apply  not,  say,  to  Queen  Victoria  or  Nicholas  n., 
but  to  the  Caesars  or  the  Pharaohs.— Trans. 

2  The  Russian  peasant  is  usually  a  member  of  a  village  commune, 
and  has  therefore  a  right  to  a  share  in  the  land  belonging  to  the 
village.     Tolstoy  disapproves  of  the  order  of  society  which  allows 
less  land  for  the  support  of  a  whole  village  full  of  people  than  is 
sometimes  owned  by  a  single  landed  proprietor.     The  "Censor"  will 
not  allow  disapproval  of  this  state  of  things  to  be  expressed,  but  is 
prepared  to  admit  that  the  laws  and  customs,   say,   of  England — 
where  a  yet  more  extreme  form  of  landed  property  exists,  and  the 
men  who  actually  labour  on  the  land  usually  possess  none  of  it — 
deserve  criticism. — Trans. 


ever,  turned  out  otherwise.  Nous  comptions  sans  notre 
Iwte.  After  the  legal  term  of  four  days  had  already  elapsed, 
the  book  was  seized,  and,  on  instructions  received  from 
Petersburg,  it  was  handed  over  to  the  "Spiritual  Censor." 
Then  Grote  declined  all  further  participation  in  the  affair, 
and  the  "  Spiritual  Censor  "  proceeded  to  do  what  he  would 
with  the  book.  The  "  Spiritual  Censorship  "  is  one  of  the 
most  ignorant,  venal,  stupid,  and  despotic  institutions  in 
Russia.  Books  which  disagree  in  any  way  with  the  recog 
nised  state  religion  of  Russia,  if  once  it  gets  hold  of  them, 
are  almost  always  totally  suppressed  and  burnt;  which  is 
what  happened  to  all  my  religious  works  when  attempts 
were  made  to  print  them  in  Russia.  Probably  a  similar 
fate  would  have  overtaken  this  work  also,  had  not  the 
editors  of  the  magazine  employed  all  means  to  save  it. 
The  result  of  their  efforts  was  that  the  "  Spiritual  Censor," 
a  priest  who  probably  understands  art  and  is  interested  in 
art  as  much  as  I  understand  or  am  interested  in  church 
services,  but  who  gets  a  good  salary  for  destroying  whatever 
is  likely  to  displease  his  superiors,  struck  out  all  that 
seemed  to  him  to  endanger  his  position,  and  substituted 
his  thoughts  for  mine  wherever  he  considered  it  necessary 
to  do  so.  For  instance,  where  I  speak  of  Christ  going  to 
the  Cross  for  the  sake  of  the  truth  He  professed,  the 
"Censor"  substituted  a  statement  that  Christ  died  for 
mankind,  i.e.  he  attributed  to  me  an  assertion  of  the 
dogma  of  the  Redemption,  which  I  consider  to  be  one 
of  the  most  untrue  and  harmful  of  Church  dogmas.  After 
correcting  the  book  in  this  way,  the  "Spiritual  Censor" 
allowed  it  to  be  printed. 

To  protest  in  Russia  is  impossible,  no  newspaper  would 
publish  such  a  protest,  and  to  withdraw  my  book  from  the 
magazine  and  place  the  editor  in  an  awkward  position  with 
the  public  was  also  not  possible. 

So  the  matter  has  remained.     A  book  has  appeared  under 


my  name  containing  thoughts  attributed  to  me  which  are 
not  mine. 

I  was  persuaded  to  give  my  article  to  a  Eussian  magazine, 
in  order  that  my  thoughts,  which  may  he  useful,  should 
become  the  possession  of  Eussian  readers;  and  the  result 
has  been  that  my  name  is  affixed  to  a  work  from  which 
it  might  be  assumed  that  I  quite  arbitrarily  assert  things 
contrary  to  the  general  opinion,  without  adducing  my 
reasons ;  that  I  only  consider  false  patriotism  bad,  but  patriot 
ism  in  general  a  very  good  feeling ;  that  I  merely  deny  the 
absurdities  of  the  Eoman  Catholic  Church  and  disbelieve 
in  the  Madonna,  but  that  I  believe  in  the  Orthodox  Eastern 
faith  and  in  the  "  Mother  of  God  " ;  that  I  consider  all  the 
writings  collected  in  the  Bible  to  be  holy  books,  and  see 
the  chief  importance  of  Christ's  life  in  the  Eedemption  of 
mankind  by  his  death. 

I  have  narrated  all  this  in  such  detail  because  it  strik 
ingly  illustrates  the  indubitable  truth,  that  all  compromise 
with  institutions  of  which  your  conscience  disapproves, — 
compromises  which  are  usually  made  for  the  sake  of  the 
general  good, — instead  of  producing  the  good  you  expected, 
inevitably  lead  you  not  only  to  acknowledge  the  institution 
you  disapprove  of,  but  also  to  participate  in  the  evil  that 
institution  produces. 

I  am  glad  to  be  able  by  this  statement  at  least  to  do 
something  to  correct  the  error  into  which  I  was  led  by 
my  compromise. 

I  have  also  to  mention  that  besides  reinstating  the  parts 
excluded  by  the  Censor  from  the  Eussian  editions,  other 
corrections  and  additions  of  importance  have  been  made  in 
this  edition. 


29M  March  1898. 



Time  and  labour  spent  on  art  —  Lives  stunted  in  its  service  — 
Morality  sacrificed  to  and  anger  justified  by  art  —  The 
rehearsal  of  an  opera  described  ....  1 


Does  art  compensate  for  so  much  evil  ?  —  What  is  art  ?  —  Con 
fusion  of  opinions  —  Is  it  "that  which  produces  beauty"  ? 
—  The  word  "  beauty"  in  Russian  —  Chaos  in  aesthetics  .  9 


Summary  of  various  aesthetic  theories  and  definitions,  from 

Baumgarten  to  to-day         .....  20 


Definitions  of  art  founded  on  beauty  —  Taste  not  definable  — 
A  clear  definition  needed  to  enable  us  to  recognise  works 
of  art  .  .  .  .  .  .38 


Definitions  not  founded  on  beauty  —  Tolstoy's  definition  —  The 
extent  and  necessity  of  art—  How  people  in  the  past  have 
distinguished  good  from  bad  in  art  46 

xxxviii  CONTENTS. 



How  art  for  pleasure  has  come  into  esteem — Religions  indicate 
what  is  considered  good  and  bad— Church  Christianity — 
The  Renaissance — Scepticism  of  the  upper  classes — They 
confound  beauty  with  goodness  ....  53 


An  aesthetic  theory  framed  to  suit  this  view  of  life       .  .  61 


Who  have  adopted  it  ?—  Real  art  needful  for  all  men — Our  art 
too  expensive,  too  unintelligible,  and  too  harmful  for  the 
masses — The  theory  of  "the  elect "  in  art  .  .  67 


Perversion  of  our  art — It  has  lost  its  natural  subject-matter — • 
Has  no  flow  of  fresh  feeling — Transmits  chiefly  three  base 
emotions  .......  73 


Loss  of  comprehensibility — Decadent  art — Recent  French  art 
— Have  we  a  right  to  say  it  is  bad  and  that  what  we  like 
is  good  art  ? — The  highest  art  has  always  been  compre 
hensible  to  normal  people — What  fails  to  infect  normal 
people  is  not  art  .  .  .  .  .79 


Counterfeits  of  art  produced  by  :  Borrowing  ;  Imitating  ; 
Striking  ;  Interesting — Qualifications  needful  for  produc 
tion  of  real  works  of  art,  and  those  sufficient  for  produc 
tion  of  counterfeits  .....  106 


Causes  of  production  of  counterfeits — Professionalism — Criti 
cism — Schools  of  art  .....  118 


Wagner's  "  Nibelung's  Ring  "a  type  of  counterfeit  art — Its 

success,  and  the  reasons  thereof    .  .  .  .128 

CONTENTS.  xxxix 



Truths  fatal  to  preconceived  views  are  not  readily  recognised 
— Proportion  of  works  of  art  to  counterfeits — Perversion 
of  taste  and  incapacity  to  recognise  art — Examples  .  143- 


The  quality  of  art,  considered  apart  from  its  subject- 
matter — The  sign  of  art :  infectiousness — Incomprehen 
sible  to  those  whose  taste  is  perverted — Conditions  of 
infection  :  Individuality  ;  Clearness  ;  Sincerity  .  .  152 


The  quality  of  art,  considered  according  to  its  subject- 
matter— The  better  the  feeling  the  better  the  art— The 
cultured  crowd — The  religious  perception  of  our  age — The 
new  ideals  put  fresh  demands  to  art— Art  unites — 
Religious  art — Universal  art — Both  co-operate  to  one 
result — The  new  appraisement  of  art— Bad  art — Examples 
of  art — -How  to  test  a  work  claiming  to  be  art  .  .  156 


Results  of  absence  of  true  art — Results  of  perversion  of  art : 
Labour  and  lives  spent  on  what  is  useless  and  harmful — 
The  abnormal  life  of  the  rich — Perplexity  of  children  and 
plain  folk — Confusion  of  right  and  wrong — Nietzsche  and 
Redbeard — Superstition,  Patriotism,  and  Sensuality  .  175 



lie  purpose  of  human  life  is  the  brotherly  union  of  man — Art 

must  be  guided  by  this  perception.  .  .  .         187 


I  The  art  of  the  future  not  a  possession  of  a  select  minority,  but 

a  means  towards  perfection  and  unity        .  .  .192 


The  connection  between  science  and  art  —  The  mendacious 
sciences  ;  the  trivial  sciences — Science  should  deal  with 
the  great  problems  of  human  life,  and  serve  as  a  basis 
for  ait  200 




Appendix   I  ,     .     .     -     •     •  •    215 

.,     II  ....  218 

.,111 •    226 

IV  .                    .  232 

TAKE  up  any  one  of  our  ordinary  newspapers,  and  you 
will  find  a  part  devoted  to  the  theatre  and  music.  In 
almost  every  number  you  will  find  a  description  of  some 
art  exhibition,  or  of  some  particular  picture,  and  you  will 
always  find  reviews  of  new  works  of  art  that  have  appeared, 
of  volumes  of  poems,  of  short  stories,  or  of  novels. 

Promptly,  and  in  detail,  as  soon  as  it  has  occurred,  an 
account  is  published  of  how  such  and  such  an  actress  or 
actor  played  this  or  that  role  in  such  and  such  a  drama, 
comedy,  or  opera ;  and  of  the  merits  of  the  performance,  as 
well  as  of  the  contents  of  the  new  drama,  comedy,  or  opera, 
with  its  defects  and  merits.  With  as  much  care  and  detail, 
or  even  more,  we  are  told  how  such  and  such  an  artist 
has  sung  a  certain  piece,  or  has  played  it  on  the  piano  or 
violin,  and  what  were  the  merits  and  defects  of  the  piece 
and  of  the  performance.  In  every  large  town  there  is  sure 
to  be  at  least  one,  if  not  more  than  one,  exhibition  of  new 
pictures,  the  merits  and  defects  of  which  are  discussed  in 
the  utmost  detail  by  critics  and  connoisseurs. 

New  novels  and  poems,  in  separate  volumes  or  in  the 
magazines,  appear  almost  every  day,  and  the  newspapers 
consider  it  their  duty  to  give  their  readers  detailed  accounts 
of  these  artistic  productions. 

2  WHAT  IS  ART? 

For  the  support  of  art  in  Kussia  (where  for  the  education 
of  the  people  only  a  hundredth  part  is  spent  of  what  would 
be  required  to  give  everyone  the  opportunity  of  instruction) 
the  Government  grants  millions  of  roubles  in  subsidies  to 
academies,  conservatoires  and  theatres.  In  France  twenty 
million  francs  are  assigned  for  art,  and  similar  grants  are 
made  in  Germany  and  England. 

In  every  large  town  enormous  buildings  are  erected  for 
museums,  academies,  conservatoires,  dramatic  schools,  and  for 
performances  and  concerts.  Hundreds  of  thousands  of  work 
men, — carpenters,  masons,  painters,  joiners,  paperhangers, 
tailors,  hairdressers,  jewellers,  moulders,  type-setters, — spend 
their  whole  lives  in  hard  labour  to  satisfy  the  demands  of 
art,  so  that  hardly  any  other  department  of  human  activity, 
except  the  military,  consumes  so  much  energy  as  this. 

Not  only  is  enormous  labour  spent  on  this  activity,  but  in 
it,  as  in  war,  the  very  lives  of  men  are  sacrificed.  Hundreds 
of  thousands  of  people  devote  their  lives  from  childhood  to 
learning  to  twirl  their  legs  rapidly  (dancers),  or  to  touch 
notes  and  strings  very  rapidly  (musicians),  or  to  draw  with 
paint  and  represent  what  they  see  (artists),  or  to  turn  every 
phrase  inside  out  and  find  a  rhyme  to  every  word.  And  these 
people,  often  very  kind  and  clever,  and  capable  of  all  sorts 
of  useful  labour,  grow  savage  over  their  specialised  and 
stupefying  occupations,  and  become  one-sided  and  self- 
complacent  specialists,  dull  to  all  the  serious  phenomena  of 
life,  and  skilful  only  at  rapidly  twisting  their  legs,  their 
tongues,  or  their  fingers. 

But  even  this  stunting  of  human  life  is  not  the  worst.  I 
remember  being  once  at  the  rehearsal  of  one  of  the  most 
ordinary  of  the  new  operas  which  are  produced  at  all  the 
opera  houses  of  Europe  and  America. 

I  arrived  when  the  first  act  had  already  commenced.  To 
reach  the  auditorium  I  had  to  pass  through  the  stage 
entrance.  By  dark  entrances  and  passages,  I  was  led  through 

WHAT  IS  ART?  3 

the  vaults  of  an  enormous  building  past  immense  machines 
for  changing  the  scenery  and  for  illuminating ;  and  there  in 
the  gloom  and  dust  I  saw  workmen  busily  engaged.  One 
of  these  men,  pale,  haggard,  in  a  dirty  blouse,  with  dirty, 
work-worn  hands  and  cramped  fingers,  evidently  tired  and 
out  of  humour,  went  past  me,  angrily  scolding  another  man. 
Ascending  by  a  dark  stair,  I  came  out  on  the  boards  behind 
the  scenes.  Amid  various  poles  and  rings  and  scattered 
scenery,  decorations  arid  curtains,  stood  and  moved  dozens, 
if  not  hundreds,  of  painted  and  dressed-up  men,  in  costumes 
fitting  tight  to  their  thighs  and  calves,  and  also  women,  as 
usual,  as  nearly  nude  as  might  be.  These  were  all  singers, 
or  members  of  the  chorus,  or  ballet-dancers,  awaiting  their 
turns.  My  guide  led  me  across  the  stage  and,  by  means  of 
a  bridge  of  boards,  across  the  orchestra  (in  which  perhaps 
a  hundred  musicians  of  all  kinds,  from  kettle-drum  to  flute 
and  harp,  were  seated),  to  the  dark  pit-stalls. 

On  an  elevation,  between  two  lamps  with  reflectors,  and 
in  an  arm-chair  placed  before  a  music-stand,  sat  the  director 
of  the  musical  part,  baton  in  hand,  managing  the  orchestra 
and  singers,  and,  in  general,  the  production  of  the  whole 

The  performance  had  already  commenced,  and  on  the 
stage  a  procession  of  Indians  who  had  brought  home  a  bride 
was  being  represented.  Besides  men  and  women  in  costume, 
two  other  men  in  ordinary  clothes  bustled  and  ran  about  on 
the  stage ;  one  was  the  director  of  the  dramatic  part,  and 
the  other,  who  stepped  about  in  soft  shoes  and  ran  from 
place  to  place  with  unusual  agility,  was  the  dancing-master, 
whose  salary  per  month  exceeded  what  ten  labourers  earn 
in  a  year. 

These  three  directors  arranged  the  singing,  the  orchestra, 
and  the  procession.  The  procession,  as  usual,  was  enacted 
by  couples,  with  tinfoil  halberds  on  their  shoulders.  They 
all  came  from  one  place,  and  walked  round  and  round  again, 

4  WHAT  is  ART? 

and  then  stopped.  The  procession  took  a  long  time  to 
arrange  :  first  the  Jndians  with  halberds  came  on  too  late ; 
then  too  soon ;  then  at  the  right  time,  but  crowded  together 
at  the  exit ;  then  they  did  not  crowd,  but  arranged  themselves 
badly  at  the  sides  of  the  stage ;  and  each  time  the  whole 
performance  was  stopped  and  recommenced  from  the  be 
ginning.  The  procession  was  introduced  by  a  recitative, 
delivered  by  a  man  dressed  up  like  some  variety  of  Turk, 
who,  opening  his  mouth  in  a  curious  way,  sang,  "  Home  I 
bring  the  bri-i-ide."  He  sings  and  waves  his  arm  (which  is 
of  course  bare)  from  under  his  mantle.  The  procession 
commences,  but  here  the  French  horn,  in  the  accompaniment 
of  the  recitative,  does  something  wrong ;  and  the  director, 
with  a  shudder  as  if  some  catastrophe  had  occurred,  raps 
with  his  stick  on  the  stand.  All  is  stopped,  and  the 
director,  turning  to  the  orchestra,  attacks  the  French  horn, 
scolding  him  in  the  rudest  terms,  as  cabmen  abuse  each 
other,  for  taking  the  wrong  note.  And  again  the  whole 
thing  recommences.  The  Indians  with  their  halberds 
again  come  on,  treading  softly  in  their  extraordinary  boots ; 
again  the  singer  sings,  "Home  I  bring  the  bri-i-ide."  But 
here  the  pairs  get  too  close  together.  More  raps  with 
the  stick,  more  scolding,  and  a  recommencement.  Again, 
"Home  I  bring  the  bri-i-ide,"  again  the  same  gesticulation 
with  the  bare  arm  from  under  the  mantle,  and  again  the 
couples,  treading  softly  with  halberds  on  their  shoulders, 
some  with  sad  and  serious  faces,  some  talking  and  smiling, 
arrange  themselves  in  a  circle  and  begin  to  sing.  All 
seems  to  be  going  well,  but  again  the  stick  raps,  and  the 
director,  in  a  distressed  and  angry  voice,  begins  to  scold 
the  men  and  women  of  the  chorus.  It  appears  that  when 
singing  they  had  omitted  to  raise  their  hands  from  time  to 
time  in  sign  of  animation.  "Are  you  all  dead,  or  what? 
Cows  that  you  are  !  Are  you  corpses,  that  you  can't  move  1 " 
Again  they  re-commence,  "  Home  I  bring  the  bri-i-ide,"  and 

WHAT  IS  ART?  5 

again,  with  sorrowful  faces,  the  chorus  women  sing,  first  one 
and  then  another  of  them  raising  their  hands.  But  two 
chorus-girls  speak  to  each  other, — again  a  more  vehement 
rapping  with  the  stick.  "  Have  you  come  here  to  talk  ?  Can't 
you  gossip  at  home?  You  there  in  red  breeches,  come 
nearer.  Look  towards  me  !  Recommence  !  "  Again,  "  Home 
I  bring  the  bri-i-ide."  And  so  it  goes  on  for  one,  two,  three 
hours.  The  whole  of  such  a  rehearsal  lasts  six  hours  on 
end.  Raps  with  the  stick,  repetitions,  placings,  corrections 
of  the  singers,  of  the  orchestra,  of  the  procession,  of  the 
dancers, — all  seasoned  with  angry  scolding.  I  heard  the 
words,  "asses,"  "fools,"  "idiots,"  "swine,"  addressed  to  the 
musicians  and  singers  at  least  forty  times  in  the  course  of 
one  hour.  And  the  unhappy  individual  to  whom  the  abuse 
is  addressed, — flautist,  horn-blower,  or  singer, — physically  and 
mentally  demoralised,  does  not  reply,  and  does  what  is 
demanded  of  him.  Twenty  times  is  repeated  the  one  phrase, 
"  Home  I  bring  the  bri-i-ide,"  and  twenty  times  the  striding 
about  in  yellow  shoes  with  a  halberd  over  the  shoulder. 
The  conductor  knows  that  these  people  are  so  demoralised 
that  they  are  no  longer  fit  for  anything  but  to  blow  trumpets 
and  walk  about  with  halberds  and  in  yellow  shoes,  and  that 
they  are  also  accustomed  to  dainty,  easy  living,  so  that  they 
will  put  up  with  anything  rather  than  lose  their  luxurious 
life.  He  therefore  gives  free  vent  to  his  churlishness, 
especially  as  he  has  seen  the  same  thing  done  in  Paris  and 
Vienna,  and  knows  that  this  is  the  way  the  best  conductors 
behave,  and  that  it  is  a  musical  tradition  of  great  artists 
to  be  so  carried  away  by  the  great  business  of  their  art 
that  they  cannot  pause  to  consider  the  feelings  of  other 

It  would  be  difficult  to  find  a  more  repulsive  sight.  I 
have  seen  one  workman  abuse  another  for  not  supporting 
the  weight  piled  upon  him  when  goods  wore  being  unloaded, 
or,  at  hay-stacking,  the  village  elder  scold  a  peasant  for  not 

6  WHAT  IS  ART? 

making  the  rick  right,  and  the  man  submitted  in  silence. 
And,  however  unpleasant  it  was  to  witness  the  scene,  the 
unpleasantness  was  lessened  by  the  consciousness  that  the 
business  in  hand  was  needful  and  important,  and  that  the 
fault  for  which  the  head-man  scolded  the  labourer  was  one 
which  might  spoil  a  needful  undertaking. 

But  what  was  being  done  here1?  For  what,  and  for 
whom  ?  Very  likely  the  conductor  was  tired  out,  like  the 
workman  I  passed  in  the  vaults ;  it  was  even  evident  that 
he  was;  but  who  made  him  tire  himself?  And  for  what 
was  he  tiring  himself?  The  opera  he  was  rehearsing  was 
one  of  the  most  ordinary  of  operas  for  people  who  are 
accustomed  to  them,  but  also  one  of  the  most  gigantic 
absurdities  that  could  possibly  be  devised.  An  Indian  king 
wants  to  marry ;  they  bring  him  a  bride ;  he  disguises  him 
self  as  a  minstrel ;  the  bride  falls  in  love  with  the  minstrel 
and  is  in  despair,  but  afterwards  discovers  that  the  minstrel 
is  the  king,  and  everyone  is  highly  delighted. 

That  there  never  were,  or  could  be,  such  Indians,  and  that 
they  were  not  only  unlike  Indians,  but  that  what  they  were 
doing  was  unlike  anything  on  earth  except  other  operas, 
was  beyond  all  manner  of  doubt;  that  people  do  not  con 
verse  in  such  a  way  as  recitative,  and  do  not  place  them 
selves  at  fixed  distances,  in  a  quartet,  waving  their  arms  to 
express  their  emotions ;  that  nowhere,  except  in  theatres,  do 
people  walk  about  in  such  a  manner,  in  pairs,  with  tinfoil 
halberds  and  in  slippers ;  that  no  one  ever  gets  angry  in  such 
a  way,  or  is  affected  in  such  a  way,  or  laughs  in  such  a  way, 
or  cries  in  such  a  way ;  and  that  no  one  on  earth  can 
be  moved  by  such  performances;  all  this  is  beyond  the 
possibility  of  doubt 

Instinctively  the  question  presents  itself — For  whom  is 
this  being  done?  "Whom  can  it  please1?  If  there  are, 
occasionally,  good  melodies  in  the  opera,  to  which  it  is 
pleasant  to  listen,  they  could  have  been  sung  simply,  without 

WHAT  IS  ART?  7 

these  stupid  costumes  and  all  the  processions  and  recitatives 
and  hand-wavings. 

The  ballet,  in  which  half-naked  women  make  voluptuous 
movements,  twisting  themselves  into  various  sensual  wreath- 
ings,  is  oirnply  a  lewd  performance. 

So  one  is  quite  at  a  loss  as  to  whom  these  things  are  done 
for.  The  man  of  culture  is  heartily  sick  of  them,  while  to 
a  real  working  man  they  are  utterly  incomprehensible.  If 
anyone  can  be  pleased  by  these  things  (which  is  doubtful), 
it  can  only  be  some  young  footman  or  depraved  artisan,  who 
has  contracted  the  spirit  of  the  upper  classes  but  is  not  yet 
satiated  with  their  amusements,  and  wishes  to  show  his 

And  all  this  nasty  folly  is  prepared,  not  simply,  nor  with 
kindly  merriment,  but  with  anger  and  brutal  cruelty. 

It  is  said  that  it  is  all  done  for  the  sake  of  art,  and  that 
art  is  a  very  important  thing.  But  is  it  true  that  art  is  so 
important  that  such  sacrifices  should  be  made  for  its  sake  1 
This  question  is  especially  urgent,  because  art,  for  the  sake 
of  which  the  labour  of  millions,  the  lives  of  men,  and  above 
all,  love  between  man  and  man,  are  being  sacrificed, — this 
very  art  is  becoming  something  more  and  more  vague  and 
uncertain  to  human  perception. 

Criticism,  in  which  the  lovers  of  art  used  to  find  support 
for  their  opinions,  has  latterly  become  so  self -contradictory, 
that,  if  we  exclude  from  the  domain  of  art  all  that  to 
which  the  critics  of  various  schools  themselves  deny  the 
title,  there  is  scarcely  any  art  left. 

The  artists  of  various  sects,  like  the  theologians  of  the 
various  sects,  mutually  exclude  and  destroy  themselves. 
Listen  to  the  artists  of  the.  schools  of  our  times,  and  you 
will  find,  in  all  branches,  each  set  of  artists  disowning  others. 
In  poetry  the  old  romanticists  deny  the  parnassians  and 
the  decadents ;  the  parnassians  disown  the  romanticists  and 
the  decadents ;  the  decadents  disown  all  their  predecessors 

8  WHAT  IS  ART? 

and  the  symbolists ;  the  symbolists  disown  all  their  pre 
decessors  and  les  mages  ;  and  Ics  mages  disown  all,  all  their 
predecessors.  Among  novelists  we  have  naturalists,  psycho 
logists,  and  " nature-is ts,:'  all  rejecting  each  other.  Audit 
is  the  same  in  dramatic  art,  in  painting  and  in  music.  So 
that  art,  which  demands  such  tremendous  labour-sacrifices 
from  the  people,  which  stunts  human  lives  and  transgresses 
against  human  love,  is  not  only  not  a  thing  clearly  and 
firmly  denned,  but  is  understood  in  sucli  contradictory  ways 
by  its  own  devotees  that  it  is  difficult  to  say  what  is  meant 
by  art,  and  especially  what  is  good,  useful  art, — art  for  the 
sake  of  which  we  might  condone  such  sacrifices  as  are  being 
offered  at  its  shrine. 


FOR  the  production  of  every  ballet,  circus,  opera,  operetta, 
exhibition,  picture,  concert,  or  printed  book,  the  intense  and 
unwilling  labour  of  thousands  and  thousands  of  people  is 
needed  at  what  is  often  harmful  and  humiliating  work. 
It  were  well  if  artists  made  all  they  require  for  themselves, 
but,  as  it  is,  they  all  need  the  help  of  workmen,  not  only  to 
produce  art,  but  also  for  their  own  usually  luxurious  main 
tenance.  And,  one  way  or  other,  they  get  it ;  either  through 
payments  from  rich  people,  or  through  subsidies  given  by 
Government  (in  Russia,  for  instance,  in  grants  of  millions  of 
roubles  to  theatres,  conservatoires  and  academies).  This 
money  is  collected  from  the  people,  some  of  whom  have  to 
sell  their  only  cow  to  pay  the  tax,  and  who  never  get  those 
aesthetic  pleasures  which  art  gives. 

It  was  all  very  well  for  a  Greek  or  Roman  artist,  or  even 
for  a  Russian  artist  of  the  first  half  of  our  century  (when 
there  were  still  slaves,  and  it  was  considered  right  that  there 
should  be),  with  a  quiet  mind  to  make  people  serve  him  and 
his  art;  but  in  our  day,  when  in  all  men  there  is  at  least 
some  dim  perception  of  the  equal  rights  of  all,  it  is  impos 
sible  to  constrain  people  to  labour  unwillingly  for  art,  without 
first  deciding  the  question  whether  it  is  true  that  art  is  so 
good  and  so  important  an  affair  as  to  redeem  this  evil. 

If  not,  we  have  the  terrible  probability  to  consider,  that 
while  fearful  sacrifices  of  the  labour  and  lives  of  men,  and 
of  morality  itself,  are  being  made  to  art,  that  same  art  may 
be  not  only  useless  but  even  harmful. 

io  WHAT  IS  ART? 

And  therefore  it  is  necessary  for  a  society  in  which  works 
of  art  arise  and  are  supported,  to  find  out  whether  all  that 
professes  to  be  art  is  really  art ;  whether  (as  is  presupposed 
in  our  society)  all  that  which  is  art  is  good ;  and  whether 
it  is  important  and  worth  those  sacrifices  which  it  necessi 
tates.  It  is  still  more  necessary  for  every  conscientious 
artist  to  know  this,  that  he  may  be  sure  that  all  he  does 
has  a  valid  meaning ;  that  it  is  not  merely  an  infatuation 
of  the  small  circle  of  people  among  whom  he  lives  which 
excites  in  him  the  false  assurance  that  he  is  doing  a  good 
work ;  and  that  what  he  takes  fM>m  others  for  the  support 
of  his  often  very  luxurious  life,  will  be  compensated  for  by 
those  productions  at  which  he  works.  And  that  is  why 
answers  to  the  above  questions  are  especially  important  in 
our  time. 

What  is  this  art,  whi<  h  is  considered  so  important  and 
necessary  for  humanity  that  for  its  sake  these  sacrifices  of 
labour,  of  human  life,  and  even  of  goodness  may  be  made  1 

"What  is  art?  What  a  question!  Art  is  architecture, 
sculpture,  painting,  music,  and  poetry  in  all  its  forms," 
usually  replies  the  ordinary  man,  the  art  amateur,  or  even 
the  artist  himself,  imagining  the  matter  about  which  he  is 
talking  to  be  perfectly  clear,  and  uniformly  understood  by 
everybody.  But  in  architecture,  one  inquires  further, 
are  there  not  simple  buildings  which  are  not  objects  of 
art,  and  buildings  with  artistic  pretensions  which  are  un 
successful  and  ugly  and  therefore  cannot  be  considered  as 
works  of  art  1  wherein  lies  the  characteristic  sign  of  a  work 
of  art  ? 

It  is  the  same  in  sculpture,  in  music,  and  in  poetry.  Art, 
in  all  its  forms,  is  bounded  on  one  side  by  the  practically 
useful  and  on  the  other  by  unsuccessful  attempts  at  art. 
How  is  art  to  be  marked  off  from  each  of  these1?  The 
ordinary  educated  man  of  our  circle,  and  even  the  artist 
who  has  not  occupied  himself  especially  with  aesthetics, 

WHAT  IS  ART?  n 

will  not  hesitate  at  this  question  either.  He  thinks  the 
solution  has  been  found  long  ago,  and  is  well  known  to 

"Art  is  such  activity  as  produces  beauty,"  says  such  a 

If  art  consists  in  that,  then  is  a  ballet  or  an  operetta 
art1?  you  inquire. 

"Yes,"  says  the  ordinary  man,  though  Avith  some  hesita 
tion,  "a  good  ballet  or  a  graceful  operetta  is  also  art,  in  so 
far  as  it  manifests  beauty." 

But  without  even  asking  the  ordinary  man  what  differen 
tiates  the  "good"  ballet  and  the  "graceful"  operetta  from 
their  opposites  (a  question  he  would  have  much  difficulty 
in  answering),  if  you  ask  him  whether  the  activity  of  cos 
tumiers  and  hairdressers,  who  ornament  the  figures  and  faces 
of  the  women  for  the  ballet  and  the  operetta,  is  art ;  or  the 
activity  of  Worth,  the  dressmaker ;  of  scent-makers  and  men- 
cooks,  then  he  will,  in  most  cases,  deny  that  their  activity 
belongs  to  the  sphere  of  art.  But  in  this  the  ordinary  man 
makes  a  mistake,  just  because  he  is  an  ordinary  man  and  not 
a  specialist,  and  because  he  has  not  occupied  himself  with 
aesthetic  questions.  Had  he  looked  into  these  matters,  he 
would  have  seen  in  the  great  Kenan's  book,  Marc,  Aurele, 
a  dissertation  showing  that  the  tailor's  work  is  art,  and  that 
those  who  do  not  see  in  the  adornment  of  woman  an  affair 
of  the  highest  art  are  very  small-minded  and  dull.  "  C'est  le 
grand  art,"  says  Kenan.  Moreover,  he  would  have  known 
that  in  many  aesthetic  systems — for  instance,  in  the  aesthetics 
of  the  learned  Professor  Kralik,  Weltschonheit,  Versuch 
einer  allgemeinen  ^Esthetik,  von  Richard  Kralik,  and  in  Les 
problemes  de  V  Esthetique  Contemporaine,  by  Guyau — the  arts 
of  costume,  of  taste,  and  of  touch  are  included. 

"  Es  Folgt  nun  ein  Funfblatt  von  Kunsten,  die  der  subjeo- 
tiven  Sinnlichkeit  entkeimen  "(There  results  then  a  pentafoliate 
of  arts,  growing  out  of  the  subjective  perceptions),  says 

12  WHAT  IS  ART? 

Kralik  (p.  175).  "  Sie  sind  die  dstlietische  Behandlung 
der  fiinf  Sinne"  (They  are  the  aesthetic  treatment  of  the 
five  senses.) 

These  five  arts  are  the  following  : — 

Die  Kunst  des  Geschmacksinns — The  art  of  the  sense  of 
taste  (p.  175). 

Die  Kunst  des  Geruchsinns — The  art  of  the  sense  of  smell 
(p.  177). 

Die  Kunst  des  Tastsinns — The  art  of  the  sense  of  touch 
(p.  180). 

Die  Kiuist  des  Gehursinns — Th^  art  of  the  sense  of  hear- 
ing  (p.  182). 

Die  Kunst  des  Gesichtsinns — The  art  of  the  sense  of  sight 
(p.  184). 

Of  the  first  of  these — die  Kunst  des  Geschmacksinns — he 
says  :  "  Man  halt  zwar  gewohnlich  nur  zwei  oder  hochstens 
drei  Sinne  fur  wiirdig,  den  Stoff  kunstlerischer  Behandlung 
dbzugeben,  aber  ich  glaube  nur  mit  bedingtem  Recht.  Ich 
will  kein  allzugrosses  Gewicht  darauf  legen,  dass  der  gemeine 
Sprachgebrauch  manch  andere  Kiinste,  wie  zum  Beispiel  die 
Kochkunst  kennt."1 

And  further :  "  Und  es  ist  doch  gewiss  eine  dsthetische 
Leistung,  wenn  es  der  Kochkunst  gelingt  aus  einem  thierischen 
Kadaver  einen  Gegenstand  des  Geschmacks  injedem  Sinne  zu 
machen.  Der  Grundsatz  der  Kunst  des  Geschmacksinns  (die 
weiter  ist  als  die  sogenannte  Kochkunst}  ist  also  dieser :  Es 
soil  alles  Geniessbare  als  Sinnbild  einer  Idee  behandelt  werden 
und  in  jedesmaligem  Einklang  zur  auszudrilckenden  Idee."2 

1  Only  two,  or  at  most  three,  senses  are  generally  held  worthy  to 
supply  matter  for  artistic  treatment,  but  I  think  this  opinion  is  only 
conditionally  correct.     I  will  not  lay  too  much  stress  on  the  fact  that 
our  common  speech  recognises  many  other  arts,  as,  for  instance,  the 
art  of  cookery. 

2  And  yet  it  is  certainly  an  aesthetic  achievement  when  the  art  of 
cooking  succeeds  in  making  of  an  animal's  corpse  an  object  in  all  re- 

WHAT  IS  ART  1  13 

This  author,  like  Kenan,  acknowledges  a  Kostilmkunst 
(Art  of  Costume)  (p.  200),  etc. 

Such  is  also  the  opinion  of  the  French  writer,  Guyau, 
who  is  highly  esteemed  by  some  authors  of  our  day.  In 
his  book,  Les  problemes  de  Vesthetique  contemporaine,  he 
speaks  seriously  of  touch,  taste,  and  smell  as  giving,  or  being 
capable  of  giving,  aesthetic  impressions :  "  Si  la  couleur 
manque  au  toucher,  il  nous  fournit  en  revanche  une  notion 
que  seul  ne  peut  nous  donner,  et  qui  a  une  valeur 
esthetique  considerable,  celle  du  doux,  du  soyeux  du  poll. 
Ce  qui  caracterise  la  beaute  du  velours,  c'est  sa  douceur  au 
toucher  non  mains  que  son  brillant.  Dans  Videe  que  nous 
nous  faisons  de  la  beaute  d'une  femme,  le  veloute  de  sa  peau 
entre  comme  clement  essentiel" 

"  Cliacun  de  nous  probablement  avec  un  peu  d' attention  se 
rappellera  des  jouissances  du  gout,  qui  out  etc  de  veritables 
jouissances  esthetiques."  x  And  he  recounts  how  a  glass  of 
milk  drunk  by  him  in  the  mountains  gave  him  aesthetic 

So  it  turns  out  that  the  conception  of  art  as  consisting 
in  making  beauty  manifest  is  not  at  all  so  simple  as  it  seemed, 
especially  now,  when  in  this  conception  of  beauty  are 
included  our  sensations  of  touch  and  taste  and  smell,  as 
they  are  by  the  latest  aesthetic  writers. 

spects  tasteful.  The  principle  of  the  Art  of  Taste  (wliicli  goes  beyond 
the  so-called  Art  of  Cookery)  is  therefore  this  :  All  that  is  eatable 
should  be  treated  as  the  symbol  of  some  Idea,  and  always  in  harmony 
with  the  Idea  to  be  expressed. 

1  If  the  sense  of  touch  lacks  colour,  it  gives  us,  on  the  other  hand, 
a  notion  which  the  eye  alone  cannot  afford,  and  one  of  considerable 
esthetic  value,  namely,  that  of  softness,  silkiness,  polish.  The  beauty 
of  velvet  is  characterised  not  less  by  its  softness  to  the  touch  than  by 
its  lustre.  In  the  idea  we  form  of  a  woman's  beauty,  the  softness  of 
her  skin  enters  as  an  essential  element. 

Each  of  us  probably,  with  a  little  attention,  can  recall  pleasures  of 
taste  which  have  been  real  aesthetic  pleasures. 


But  the  ordinary  man  either  does  not  know,  or  does  not 
wish  to  know,  all  this,  and  is  firmly  convinced  that  all 
questions  about  art  may  be  simply  and  clearly  solved  by 
acknowledging  beauty  to  be  the  subject-matter  of  art.  To 
him  it  seems  clear  and  comprehensible  that  art  consists  in 
manifesting  beauty,  and  that  a  reference  to  beauty  will 
serve  to  explain  all  questions  about  art. 

But  what  is  this  beauty  which  forms  the  subject-matter 
of  art  1  How  is  it  defined  1  What  is  it  ? 

As  is  always  the  case,  the  more  cloudy  and  confused  the 
conception  conveyed  by  a  word,  with  the  more  aplomb  and 
self-assurance  do  people  use  that  word,  pretending  that 
what  is  understood  by  it  is  so  simple  and  clear  that  it  is 
not  worth  while  even  to  discuss  what  it  actually 

This  is  how  matters  of  orthodox  religion  are  usually  dealt 
with,  and  this  is  how  people  now  deal  with  the  conception 
•of  beauty.  It  is  taken  for  granted  that  what  is  meant  by 
the  word  beauty  is  known  and  understood  by  everyone. 
And  yet  not  only  is  this  not  known,  but,  after  whole 
.mountains  of  books  have  been  written  on  the  subject  by  the 
most  learned  and  profound  thinkers  during  one  hundred 
and  fifty  years  (ever  since  Baumgarten  founded  aesthetics  in 
the  year  1750),  the  question,  What  is  beauty1?  remains  to 
this  day  quite  unsolved,  and  in  each  new  work  on  aesthetics 
it  is  answered  in  a  new  way.  One  of  the  last  books  I 
read  on  aesthetics  is  a  not  ill-written  booklet  by  Julius 
Mithalter,  called  Rdtsel  des  Schonen  (The  Enigma  of  the 
Beautiful).  And  that  title  precisely  expresses  the  position 
of  the  question,  What  is  beauty  1  After  thousands  of 
learned  men  have  discussed  it  during  one  hundred  and  fifty 
years,  the  meaning  of  the  word  beauty  remains  an  enigma 
still.  The  Germans  answer  the  question  in  their  manner, 
though  in  a  hundred  different  ways.  The  physiologist- 
.sestheticians,  especially  the  Englishmen :  Herbert  Spencer, 

WHAT  IS  ART?  %  15 

Grant  Allen  and  his  school,  answer  it,  each  in  his  own 
way ;  the  French  eclectics,  and  the  followers  of  Guyau  and 
Taine,  also  each  in  his  own  way ;  and  all  these  people  know 
all  the  preceding  solutions  given  by  Baumgarten,  and  Kant, 
and  Schelling,  and  Schiller,  and  Fichte,  and  Winckelmann, 
and  Lessing,  and  Hegel,  and  Schopenhauer,  and  Hartmann, 
and  Schasler,  and  Cousin,  and  Leveque  and  others. 

What  is  this  strange  conception  "  beauty,"  which  seems  so 
simple  to  those  who  talk  without  thinking,  but  in  denning 
which  all  the  philosophers  of  various  tendencies  and  different 
nationalities  can  come  to  no  agreement  during  a  century  and 
a  half  ?  What  is  this  conception  of  beauty,  on  which  the 
dominant  doctrine  of  art  rests  1 

In  Russian,  by  the  word  krasota  (beauty)  we  mean  only 
that  which  pleases  the  sight.  And  though  latterly  people 
have  begun  to  speak  of  "an  ugly  deed,"  or  of  "beautiful 
music,"  it  is  not  good  Russian. 

A  Russian  of  the  common  folk,  not  knowing  foreign 
languages,  will  not  understand  you  if  you  tell  him  that  a 
man  who  has  given  his  last  coat  to  another,  or  done  any 
thing  similar,  has  acted  "  beautifully,"  that  a  man  who  has 
cheated  another  has  done  an  "  ugly  "  action,  or  that  a  song 
is  "beautiful." 

In  Russian  a  deed  may  be  kind  and  good,  or  unkind  and 
bad.  Music  may  be  pleasant  and  good,  or  unpleasant  and 
bad;  but  there  can  be  no  such  thing  as  "beautiful"  or 
"ugly  "  music. 

Beautiful  may  relate  to  a  man,  a  horse,  a  house,  a  view, 
or  a  movement.  Of  actions,  thoughts,  character,  or  music, 
if  they  please  us,  we  may  say  that  they  are  good,  or,  if  they 
do  not  please  us,  that  they  are  not  good.  But  beautiful 
can  be  used  only  concerning  that  which  pleases  the  sight. 
So  that  the  word  and  conception  "good"  includes  the 
conception  of  "  beautiful,"  but  the  reverse  is  not  the  case ; 
the  conception  "  beauty "  does  not  include  the  concep- 

1 6  WHAT  IS  ART? 

tion  "good."  If  we  say  "good"  of  an  article  which,  we 
value  for  its  appearance,  we  thereby  say  that  the  article  is 
beautiful;  but  if  we  say  it  is  "beautiful,"  it  does  not  at 
all  mean  that  the  article  is  a  good  one, 

Such  is  the  meaning  ascribed  by  the  Eussian  language, 
and  therefore  by  the  sense  of  the  people,  to  the  words  and 
conceptions  "good"  and  "beautiful." 

In  all  the  European  languages,  i.e.  the  languages  of  those 
nations  among  whom  the  doctrine  has  spread  that  beauty  is 
the  essential  thing  in  art,  the  words  "beau,"  "schon," 
"beautiful,"  "bello,"  etc.,  while  keeping  their  meaning  of 
beautiful  in  form,  have  come  to  also  express  "goodness," 
"kindness,"  i.e.  have  come  to  act  as  substitutes  for  the 
word  "good." 

So  that  it  has  become  quite  natural  in  those  languages  to 
use  such  expressions  as  "  belle  ame,"  "schone  Gedanken,"  of 
"beautiful  deed."  Those  languages  no  longer  have  a 
suitable  word  wherewith  expressly  to  indicate  beauty  of 
form,  and  have  to  use  a  combination  of  words  such  as 
"beau  par  la  forme,"  "beautiful  to  look  at,"  etc.,  to  convey 
that  idea. 

Observation  of  the  divergent  meanings  which  the  words 
"  beauty  "  and  "  beautiful "  have  in  Eussian  on  the  one  hand, 
and  in  those  European  languages  now  permeated  by  this 
aesthetic  theory  on  the  other  hand,  shows  us  that  the  word 
"  beauty  "  has,  among  the  latter,  acquired  a  special  meaning, 
namely,  that  of  "good." 

What  is  remarkable,  moreover,  is  that  since  we  Eussians 
have  begun  more  and  more  to  adopt  the  European  view  of 
art,  the  same  evolution  has  begun  to  show  itself  in  our 
language  also,  and  some  people  speak  and  write  quite 
confidently,  and  without  causing  surprise,  of  beautiful  music 
and  ugly  actions,  or  even  thoughts  ;  whereas  forty  years  ago, 
when  I  was  young,  the  expressions  "  beautiful  music "  and 
"  ugly  actions  "  were  not  only  unusual  but  incomprehensible. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  17 

Evidently  this  new  meaning  given  to  beauty  by  European 
thought  begins  to  be  assimilated  by  Russian  society. 

And  what  really  is  this  meaning  1  What  is  this  "  beauty  " 
as  it  is  understood  by  the  European  peoples  ? 

In  order  to  answer  this  question,  I  must  here  quote  at 
least  a  small  selection  of  those  definitions  of  beauty  most 
generally  adopted  in  existing  aesthetic  systems.  I  especially 
beg  the  reader  not  to  be  overcome  by  dulness,  but  to  read 
these  extracts  through,  or,  still  better,  to  read  some  one  of 
the  erudite  aesthetic  authors.  ^N"ot  to  mention  the  voluminous 
German  sestheticians,  a  very  good  book  for  this  purpose 
would  be  either  the  German  book  by  Kralik,  the  English  work 
by  Knight,  or  the  French  one  by  Leveque.  It  is  necessary  to 
read  one  of  the  learned  aesthetic  writers  irl  order  to  form  at 
first-hand  a  conception  of  the  variety  in  opinion  and  the 
frightful  obscurity  which  reigns  in  this  region  of  specula 
tion;  not,  in  this  important  matter,  trusting  to  another's 

This,  for  instance,  is  what  the  German  aesthetician 
Schasler  says  in  the  preface  to  his  famous,  voluminous, 
and  detailed  work  on  aesthetics  : — 

"Hardly  in  any  sphere  of  philosophic  science  can  we 
find  such  divergent  methods  of  investigation  and  exposition, 
amounting  even  to  self-contradiction,  as  in  the  sphere  of 
aesthetics.  On  the  one  hand  we  have  elegant  phraseology 
without  any  substance,  characterised  in  great  part  by  most 
one-sided  superficiality;  and  on  the  other  hand,  accompany 
ing  undeniable  profundity  of  investigation  and  richness  of 
subject-matter,  we  get  a  revolting  awkwardness  of  philosophic 
terminology,  enfolding  the  simplest  thoughts  in  an  apparel 
of  abstract  science  as  though  to  render  them  worthy  to 
enter  the  consecrated  palace  of  the  system ;  and  finally^ 
between  these  two  methods  of  investigation  and  exposition, 
there  is  a  third,  forming,  as  it  were,  the  transition  from  one 
to  the  other,  a  method  consisting  of  eclecticism,  now  flaunt 


i8  WHAT  IS  ART? 

ing  an  elegant  phraseology  and  now  a  pedantic  erudition.  .  .  . 
A  style  of  exposition  that  falls  into  none  of  these  three 
defects  but  it  is  truly  concrete,  and,  having  important  matter, 
expresses  it  in  clear  and  popular  philosophic  language,  can 
nowhere  be  found  less  frequently  than  in  the  domain  of 
aesthetics." l 

It  is  only  necessary,  for  instance,  to  read  Schasler's  own 
book  to  convince  oneself  of  the  justice  of  this  observation  of 

On  the  same  subject  the  French  writer  Yeron,  in  the 
preface  to  his  very  good  work  on  aesthetics,  says,  "  12  n'y  a  pas 
de  science,  qui  ait  eteplus  que  Vestlietique  livree  aux  reveries  des 
metapJiysiciens.  Depuis  Platonjusqu'  aux  doctrines  officielles 
de  nos  jours,  on  a  fait  de  I'art  je  ne  sais  quel  amalyame  de 
fantaisies  quintessences,  et  de  mysteres  transcendantaux  qui 
trouvent  lew  expression  supreme  dans  la  conception  absolue  dn 
Beau  ideal,  prototype  immuable  et  divin  des  choses  reelles  " 
(L'esthetique,  1878,  p.  5).2 

If  the  reader  will  only  be  at  the  pains  to  peruse  the 
following  extracts,  defining  beauty,  taken  from  the  chief 
writers  on  aesthetics,  he  may  convince  himself  that  this 
censure  is  thoroughly  deserved. 

X"      I  shall  not  quote  the  definitions  of  beauty  attributed  to 

/      the    ancients, — Socrates,    Plato,    Aristotle,    etc.,    down    to 

Plotinus, — because,   in  reality,   the    ancients  had  not  that 

conception  of  beauty  separated  from  goodness  which  forms 

\       the  basis  and  aim  of  aesthetics  in  our  time.     By  referring  the 

1  M.   Schasler,   Kritische    Geschichte    der  Aesthetik,    1872,   vol.   i. 
p.  13. 

2  There  is  no  science  which  more  than  aesthetics  has  been  handed 
over  to  the  reveries  of  the  metaphysicians.     From  Plato  down  to  the 
received  doctrines   of  our  day,   people  have  made  of  art  a  strange 
amalgam  of  quintessential  fancies  and  transcendental  mysteries,  which 
find  their  supreme  expression  in  the  conception  of  an  absolute  ideal 
Beauty,  immutable  and  divine  prototype  of  actual  things. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  19 

/  judgments  of  the  ancients  on  beauty  to  our  conception  of  it, 
as  is  usually  done  in  aesthetics,  we  give  the  words  of    the 
I   ancients  a  meaning  which  is  not  theirs.1 

1  See    on    this    matter    Benard's     admirable     book,     L'esthe'tique 
d'Aristote,  also  Walter's  Geschichte  der  Aesthetik  im  Altertum. 


I  BEGIN  with  the  founder  of  aesthetics,  Baumgarten  (1714— 

According  to  Baumgarten,1  the  object  of  logical  knowledge 
is  Truth,  the  object  of  aesthetic  (i.e.  sensuous)  knowledge 
is  Beauty.  Beauty  is  the  Perfect  (the  Absolute),  recog 
nised  through  the  senses  ;  Truth  is  -the  Perfect  perceived 
through  reason ;  Goodness  is  the  Perfect  reached  by  moral 

Beauty  is  denned  by  Baumgarten  as  a  correspondence,  i.e. 
an  order  of  the  parts  in  their  mutual  relations  to  each 
other  and  in  their  relation  to  the  whole.  The  aim  of  beauty 
itself  is  to  please  and  excite  a  desire,  "  Wohlgef alien  und 
Erregung  eines  Verlangens."  (A  position  precisely  the  opposite 
of  Kant's  definition  of  the  nature  and  sign  of  beauty.) 

With  reference  to  the  manifestations  of  beauty,  Baum 
garten  considers  that  the  highest  embodiment  of  beauty 
is  seen  by  us  in  nature,  and  he  therefore  thinks  that  the 
highest  aim  of  art  is  to  copy  nature.  (This  position 
also  is  directly  contradicted  by  the  conclusions  of  the 
latest  aestheticians.) 

Passing  over  the  unimportant  followers  of  Baumgarten, — 
Maier,  Eschenburg,  and  Eberhard, — who  only  slightly 
modified  the  doctrine  of  their  teacher  by  dividing  the 
pleasant  from  the  beautiful,  I  will  quote  the  definitions 
given  by  writers  who  came  immediately  after  Baumgarten, 
and  defined  beauty  quite  in  another  way.  These  writers 
1  Schasler,  p.  361. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  21 

were  Sulzer,  Mendelssohn,  and  Moritz.  They,  in  con 
tradiction  to  Baurngarten's  main  position,  recognise  as  the 
aim  of  art,  not  beauty,  but  goodness.  Thus  Sulzer 
(1720-1777)  says  that  only  that  can  be  considered  beautiful 
which  contains  goodness.  According  to  his  theory,  the  aim 
of  the  whole  life  of  humanity  is  welfare  in  social  life.  This 
is  attained  by  the  education  of  the  moral  feelings,  to 
which  end  art  should  be  subservient.  Beauty  is  that 
which  evokes  and  educates  this  feeling. 

Beauty  is  understood  almost  in  the  same  way  by 
Mendelssohn  (1729-1786).  According  to  him,  art  is  the 
carrying  forward  of  the  beautiful,  obscurely  recognised  by 
feeling,  till  it  becomes  the  true  and  good.  The  aim  of  art 
is  moral  perfection.1 

For  the  aestheticians  of  this  school,  the  ideal  of  beauty 
is  a  beautiful  soul  in  a  beautiful  body.  So  that  these 
aestheticians  completely  wipe  out  Baumgarten's  division  of 
the  Perfect  (the  Absolute),  into  the  three  forms  of  Truth, 
Goodness,  and  Beauty ;  and  Beauty  is  again  united  with  the 
Good  and  the  True. 

But  this  conception  is  not  only  not  maintained  by  the  later 
aestheticians,  but  the  aesthetic  doctrine  of  Winckelmann 
arises,  again  in  complete  opposition.  This  divides  the  mission 
of  art  from  the  aim  of  goodness  in  the  sharpest  and  most 
positive  manner,  makes  external  beauty  the  aim  of  art,  and 
even  limits  it  to  visible  beauty. 

According  to  the  celebrated  work  of  Winckelmann  (1717- 
1767),  the  law  and  aim  of  all  art  is  beauty  only,  beauty 
quite  separated  from  and  independent  of  goodness.  There 
are  three  kinds  of  beauty : — (1)  beauty  of  form,  (2)  beauty 
of  idea,  expressing  itself  in  the  position  of  the  figure  (in 
plastic  art),  (3)  beauty  of  expression,  attainable  only  when 
the  two  first  conditions  are  present.  This  beauty  of  ex 
pression  is  the  highest  aim  of  art,  and  is  attained  in 
3  Schasler,  p.  369. 

22  WHAT  IS  ART? 

antique  art ;  modern  art  should  therefore  aim  at  imitating 
ancient  art.1 

Art  is  similarly  understood  by  Lessing,  Herder,  and  after 
wards  by  Goethe  and  by  all  the  distinguished  sestheticians 
of  Germany  till  Kant,  from  whose  day,  again,  a  different 
conception  of  art  commences. 

Native  aesthetic  theories  arose  during  this  period  in 
England,  France,  Italy,  and  Holland,  and  they,  though  not 
taken  from  the  German,  were  equally  cloudy  and  contra 
dictory.  And  all  these  writers,  just  like  the  German 
aestheticians,  founded  their  theories  on  a  conception  of  the 
Beautiful,  understanding  beauty  in  the  sense  of  a  something 
existing  absolutely,  and  mure  or  less  intermingled  with 
Goodness  or  having  one  arid  the  same  root.  In  England, 
almost  simultaneously  with  Baumgarten,  even  a  little  earlier, 
Shaftesbury,  Hutcheson,  Home,  Burke,  Hogarth,  and  others, 
wrote  on  art. 

According  to  Shaftesbury  (1670-1713),  "That  which  is 
beautiful  is  harmonious  and  proportionable,  what  is  har 
monious  and  proportionable  is  true,  and  what  is  at  once 
both  beautiful  and  true  is  of  consequence  agreeable  and 
good."  -  Beauty,  he  taught,  is  recognised  by  the  mind  only. 
God  is  fundamental  beauty;  beauty  and  goodness  proceed 
from  the  same  fount. 

So  that,  although  Shaftesbury  regards  beauty  as  being 
something  separate  from  goodness,  they  again  merge  into 
something  inseparable. 

According  to  Hutcheson  (1694-1747 — "Inquiry  into  the 
Original  of  our  Ideas  of  Beauty  and  Virtue"),  the  aim  of 
art  is  beauty,  the  essence  of  which  consists  in  evoking  in  us 
the  perception  of  uniformity  amid  variety.  In  the  recogni 
tion  of  what  is  art  we  are  guided  by  "  an  internal  sense." 
This  internal  sense  may  be  in  contradiction  to  the  ethical 

1  Scliasler,  pp.  388-390. 

"  Knight,  Philosophy  of  the  Beautiful,  i.  pp.  165,  166. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  23 

one.  So  that,  according  to  Hutcheson,  beauty  does  not 
always  correspond  with  goodness,  but  separates  from  it  and 
is  sometimes  contrary  to  it.1 

According  to  Home,  Lord  Kames  (1696-1782),  beauty  is 
that  which  is  pleasant.  Therefore  beauty  is  denned  by  taste 
alone.  The  standard  of  true  taste  is  that  the  maximum  of 
richness,  fulness,  strength,  and  variety  of  impression  should 
be  contained  in  the  narrowest  limits.  That  is  the  ideal  of 
a  perfect  work  of  art. 

According  to  Burke  (1729-1797 — "Philosophical  Inquiry 
into  the  Origin  of  our  Ideas  of  the  Sublime  and  Beautiful "), 
the  sublime  and  beautiful,  which  are  the  aim  of  art,  have 
'their  origin  in  the  promptings  of  self-preservation  and  of 
society.  These  feelings,  examined  in  their  source,  are  means 
for  the  maintenance  of  the  race  through  the  individual.  The 
first  (self-preservation)  is  attained  by  nourishment,  defence, 
and  war ;  the  second  (society)  by  intercourse  and  propagation. 
Therefore  self-defence,  and  war,  which  is  bound  up  with  it, 
is  the  source  of  the  sublime  ;  sociability,  and  the  sex-instinct, 
which  is  bound  up  with  it,  is  the  source  of  beauty.2 

Such  were  the  chief  English  definitions  of  art  and  beauty 
in  the  eighteenth  century. 

During  that  period,  in  France,  the  writers  on  art  were  Pere 
Andr6  and  Batteux,  with  Diderot,  D'Alembert,  and,  to  some 
extent,  Voltaire,  following  later. 

According  to  Pere  Andre  ("  Essai  sur  le  Beau,"  1741),  there 
are  three  kinds  of  beauty — divine  beauty,  natural  beauty, 
and  artificial  beauty.3 

According  to  Batteux  (1713-1780),  art  consists  in 
imitating  the  beauty  of  nature,  its  aim  being  enjoyment.4 
Such  is  also  Diderot's  definition  of  art. 

1  Schasler,  p.  289.     Knight,  pp.  168,  169. 

2  R.    Kralik,     Weltschonheit,    Versuch  ewier  allgemeinen  Aesthetik, 
pp.  304-306. 

3  Knight,  p.  101.  4Schlaser,  p.  316. 

24  WHAT  IS  ART? 

The  French  writers,  like  the  English,  consider  that  it  is  taste 
that  decides  what  is  beautiful.  And  the  laws  of  taste  are  not 
only  riot  laid  down,  but  it  is  granted  that  they  cannot  be  settled. 
The  same  view  was  held  by  D'Alembert  and  Voltaire.1 

According  to  the  Italian  aesthetician  of  that  period,  Pagano, 
art  consists  in  uniting  the  beauties'  dispersed  in  nature. 
The  capacity  to  perceive  these  beauties  is  taste,  the  capacity 
to  bring  them  into  one  whole  is  artistic  genius.  Beauty 
commingles  with  goodness,  so  that  beauty  is  goodness  made 
visible,  and  goodness  is  inner  beauty.2 

According  to  the  opinion  of  other  Italians  :  Muratori  (1672— 
1750), — "  Riflessioni  sopra  il  buon  gusto  intorno  le  science  e 
le  arti," — and  especially  Spaletti,3 — "  Saggio  sopra  la  bettezza" 
(1765), — art  amounts  to  an  egotistical  sensation,  founded  (as 
with  Burke)  on  the  desire  for  self-preservation  and  society. 

Among  Dutch  writers,  Hemsterhuis  (1720-1790),  who 
had  an  influence  on  the  German  sestheticians  and  on  Goethe, 
is  remarkable.  According  to  him,  beauty  is  that  which  gives 
most  pleasure,  and  that  gives  most  pleasure  which  gives  us 
the  greatest  number  of  ideas  in  the  shortest  time.  Enjoy 
ment  of  the  beautiful,  because  it  gives  the  greatest  quantity 
of  perceptions  in  the  shortest  time,  is  the  highest  notion  to 
which  man  can  attain.4 

Such  were  the  aesthetic  theories  outside  Germany  during  the 
last  century.  In  Germany,  after  Winckelmann,  there  again 
arose  a  completely  new  aesthetic  theory,  that  of  Kant  (1724- 
1804),  which  more  than  all  others  clears  up  what  this  con 
ception  of  beauty,  and  consequently  of  art,  really  amounts  to. 

The  aesthetic  teaching  of  Kant  is  founded  as  follows : — 
Man  has  a  knowledge  of  nature  outside  him  and  of  himself 
in  nature.  In  nature,  outside  himself,  he  seeks  for  truth  ; 
in  himself  he  seeks  for  goodness.  The  first  is  an  affair  of 
pure  reason,  the  other  of  practical  reason  (free-will).  Besides 

1  Knight,  pp.  102-104.  2  R.  Kralik,  p.  124. 

3  Spaletti,  Schasler,  p.  328.  4  Schasler,  pp.  331-333. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  25 

these  two  means  of  perception,  there  is  yet  the  judging 
capacity  (Urteilskraft),  which  forms  judgments  without 
reasonings  and  produces  pleasure  without  desire  (Urtheil 
ohne  Begriff  und  Vergniigen  ohne  JBegehren).  This  capacity 
is  the  basis  of  aesthetic  feeling.  Beauty,  according  to  Kant, 
in  its  subjective  meaning  is  that  which,  in  general  and 
necessarily,  without  reasonings  and  without  practical 
advantage,  pleases.  In  its  objective  meaning  it  is  the  form 
of  a  suitable  object  in  so  far  as  that  object  is  perceived 
without  any  conception  of  its  utility.1 

Beauty  is  defined  in  the  same  way  by  the  followers  of 
Kant,  among  whom  was  Schiller  (1759-1805).  According 
to  Schiller,  who  wrote  much  on  aesthetics,  the  aim  of  art  is, 
as  with  Kant,  beauty,  the  source  of  which  is  pleasure  with 
out  practical  advantage.  So  that  art  may  be  called  a  game, 
not  in  the  sense  of  an  unimportant  occupation,  but  in  the 
sense  of  a  manifestation  of  the  beauties  of  life  itself  without 
other  aim  than  that  of  beauty.2 

Besides  Schiller,  the  most  remarkable  of  Kant's  followers 
in  the  sphere  of  aesthetics  was  Wilhelm  Humboldt,  who, 
though  he  added  nothing  to  the  definition  of  beauty,  explained 
various  forms  of  it, — the  drama,  music,  the  comic,  etc.3 

After  Kant,  besides  the  second-rate  philosophers,  the 
writers  on  aesthetics  were  Fichte,  Schelling,  Hegel,  and  their 
followers.  Fichte  (1762-1814)  says  that  perception  of  the 
beautiful  proceeds  from  this  :  the  world — i.e.  nature — has 
two  sides :  it  is  the  sum  of  our  limitations,  and  it  is  the 
sum  of  our  free  idealistic  activity.  In  the  first  aspect  the 
world  is  limited,  in  the  second  aspect  it  is  free.  In  the  first 
aspect  every  object  is  limited,  distorted,  compressed,  confined 
• — and  we  see  deformity ;  in  the  second  we  perceive  its  inner 
completeness,  vitality,  regeneration — and  we  see  beauty.  So 
that  the  deformity  or  beauty  of  an  object,  according  to 

1  Schasler,  pp.  525-528.  2  Knight,  pp.  61-63. 

3  Schasler,  pp.  740-743. 

26  WHAT  IS  ART? 

Fichte,  depends  on  the  point  of  view  of  the  observer. 
Beauty  therefore  exists,  not  in  the  world,  but  in  the  beautiful 
soul  (schoner  Geist).  Art  is  the  manifestation  of  this 
beautiful  soul,  and  its  aim  is  the  education,  not  only  of  the 
mind — that  is  the  business  of  the  savant  •  not  only  of  the 
heart — that  is  the  affair  of  the  moral  preacher ;  but  of  the 
whole  man.  And  so  the  characteristic  of  beauty  lies,  not 
in  anything  external,  but  in  the  presence  of  a  beautiful  soul 
in  the  artist.1 

Following  Fichte,  and  in  the  same  direction,  Friedrich 
Schlegel  and  Adam  Miiller  also  denned  beauty.  According 
to  Schlegel  (1772-1829),  beauty  in  art  is  understood  too 
incompletely,  one-sidedly,  and  disconnectedly.  Beauty  exists 
not  only  in  art,  but  also  in  nature  and  in  love ;  so  that  the 
truly  beautiful  is  expressed  by  the  union  of  art,  nature,  and 
love.  Therefore,  as  inseparably  one  with  aesthetic  art, 
Schlegel  acknowledges  moral  and  philosophic  art.-' 

According  to  Adam  Miiller  (1779-1829),  there  are  two 
kinds  of  beauty ;  the  one,  general  beauty,  which  attracts 
people  as  the  sun  attracts  the  planet — this  is  found  chiefly  in 
antique  art — and  the  other,  individual  beauty,  which  results 
from  the  observer  himself  becoming  a  sun  attracting  beauty, 
— this  is  the  beauty  of  modern  art.  A  world  in  which  all 
contradictions  are  harmonised  is  the  highest  beauty.  Every 
work  of  art  is  a  reproduction  of  this  universal  harmony.3 
The  highest  art  is  the  art  of  life.4 

!N"ext  after  Fichte  and  his  followers  came  a  contemporary 
of  his,  the  philosopher  Schelling  (1775-1854),  who  has  had 
a  great  influence  on  the  aesthetic  conceptions  of  our  times. 
According  to  Schilling's  philosophy,  art  is  the  production 
or  result  of  that  conception  of  things  by  which  the  subject 
becomes  its  own  object,  or  the  object  its  own  subject. 
Beauty  is  the  perception  of  the  infinite  in  the  finite.  And 

1  Schasler,  pp.  769-771.  "  Schasler,  pp.  786,  787. 

3  Kralik,  p.  148.  4  Kralik,  p.  820. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  27 

the  chief  characteristic  of  works  of  art  is  unconscious  infinity. 
Art  is  the  uniting  of  the  subjective  with  the  objective,  of 
nature  with  reason,  of  the  unconscious  with  the  conscious, 
and  therefore  art  is  the  highest  means  of  knowledge. 
Beauty  is  the  contemplation  of  things  in  themselves  as  they 
exist  in  the  prototype  (In  den  Urbildern).  It  is  not  the 
artist  who  by  his  knowledge  or  skill  produces  the  beautiful, 
but  the  idea  of  beauty  in  him  itself  produces  it.1 

Of  Schelling's  followers  the  most  noticeable  was  Solger 
( 1 780-1 819 —  Vorlesungen  iiber  Aesthetik).  According  to  him^ 
the  idea  of  beauty  is  the  fundamental  idea  of  everything. 
In  the  world  we  see  only  distortions  of  the  fundamental 
idea,  but  art,  by  imagination,  may  lift  itself  to  the  height  of 
this  idea.  Art  is  therefore  akin  to  creation.2 

According  to  another  follower  of  Schelling,  Krause 
(1781-1832),  true,  positive  beauty  is  the  manifestation  of  the 
Idea  in  an  individual  form ;  art  is  the  actualisation  of  the 
beauty  existing  in  the  sphere  of  man's  free  spirit.  The 
highest  stage  of  art  is  the  art  of  life,  which  directs  its  activity 
towards  the  adornment  of  life  so  that  it  may  be  a  beautiful 
abode  for  a  beautiful  man.3 

After  Schelling  and  his  followers  came  the  new  aesthetic 
doctrine  of  Hegel,  which  is  held  to  this  day,  consciously  by 
many,  but  by  the  majority  unconsciously.  This  teaching  is 
not  only  no  clearer  or  better  defined  than  the  preceding 
ones,  but  is,  if  possible,  even  more  cloudy  and  mystical. 

According  to  Hegel  (1770-1831),  God  manifests  himself 
in  nature  and  in  art  in  the  form  of  beauty.  God  expresses 
himself  in  two  ways  :  in  the  object  and  in  the  subject,  in 
nature  and  in  spirit.  Beauty  is  the  shining  of  the  Idea 
through  matter.  Only  the  soul,  and  what  pertains  to 
it,  is  truly  beautiful ;  and  therefore  the  beauty  of  nature  is 
only  the  reflection  of  the  natural  beauty  of  the  spirit — the 

1  Schasler,  pp.  828,  829,  834-841.  2  Scliasler,  p.  891. 

3  Schasler,  p.  917. 

28  WHAT  IS  ART? 

beautiful  has  only  a  spiritual  content.  But  the  spiritual 
must  appear  in  sensuous  form.  The  sensuous  manifestation 
of  spirit  is  only  appearance  (schein),  and  this  appearance 
is  the  only  reality  of  the  beautiful.  Art  is  thus  the  production 
of  this  appearance  of  the  Idea,  and  is  a  means,  together  with 
religion  and  philosophy,  of  bringing  to  consciousness  and 
of  expressing  the  deepest  problems  of  humanity  and  the 
highest  truths  of  the  spirit. 

Truth  and  beauty,  according  to  Hegel,  are  one  and  the 
same  thing;  the  difference  being  only  that  truth  is  the 
Idea  itself  as  it  exists  in  itself,  and  is  thinkable.  The 
Idea,  manifested  externally,  becomes  to  the  apprehension 
not  only  true  but  beautiful.  The  beautiful  is  the  mani 
festation  of  the  Idea.1 

Following  Hegel  came  his  many  adherents,  Weisse, 
Arnold  Ruge,  Rosenkrantz,  Theodor  Vischer  and  others. 

According  to  Weisse  (1801-1867),  art  is  the  introduction 
(Eiribildung)  of  the  absolute  spiritual  reality  of  beauty 
into  external,  dead,  indifferent  matter,  the  perception  of 
which  latter  apart  from  the  beauty  brought  into  it  pre 
sents  the  negation  of  all  existence  in  itself  (Negation  alles 

In  the  idea  of  truth,  Weisse  explains,  lies  a  contra 
diction  between  the  subjective  and  the  objective  sides  of 
knowledge,  in  that  an  individual  /  discerns  the  Universal. 
This  contradiction  can  be  removed  by  a  conception  that 
should  unite  into  one  the  universal  and  the  individual,  which 
fall  asunder  in  our  conceptions  of  truth.  Such  a  conception 
would  be  reconciled  (aufgehoben)  truth.  Beauty  is  such  a 
reconciled  truth.2 

According  to  Ruge  (1802-1880),  a  strict  follower  of 
Hegel,  beauty  is  the  Idea  expressing  itself.  The  spirit, 
contemplating  itself,  either  finds  itself  expressed  completely, 

1  Schasler,  pp.  946,  1085,  984,  985,  990. 

2  Schasler,  pp.  966,  655,  956. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  29 

and  then  that  full  expression  of  itself  is  beauty ;  or  incom 
pletely,  and  then  it  feels  the  need  to  alter  this  imperfect 
expression  of  itself,  and  becomes  creative  art.1 

According  to  Yischer  (1807-1887),  beauty  is  the  Idea  in 
the  form  of  a  finite  phenomenon.  The  Idea  itself  is  not 
indivisible,  but  forms  a  system  of  ideas,  which  may  be 
represented  by  ascending  and  descending  lines.  The 
higher  the  idea  the  more  beauty  it  contains ;  but  even 
the  lowest  contains  beauty,  because  it  forms  an  essential 
link  of  the  system.  The  highest  form  of  the  Idea  is 
personality,  and  therefore  the  highest  art  is  that  which  has 
for  its  subject-matter  the  highest  personality.2 

Such  were  the  theories  of  the  German  aestheticians  in  the 
Hegelian  direction,  but  they  did  not  monopolise  aesthetic 
dissertations.  In  Germany,  side  by  side  and  simultaneously 
with  the  Hegelian  theories,  there  appeared  theories  of 
beauty  not  only  independent  of  Hegel's  position  (that 
beauty  is  the  manifestation  of  the  Idea),  but  directly  con 
trary  to  this  view,  denying  and  ridiculing  it.  Such  was 
the  line  taken  by  Herbart  and,  more  particularly,  by 

According  to  Herbart  (1776-1841),  there  is  not,  and 
cannot  be,  any  such  thing  as  beauty  existing  in  itself. 
What  does  exist  is  only  our  opinion,  and  it  is  necessary  to 
find  the  base  of  this  opinion  (Asthetisches  Elementar- 
urtlieil).  Such  bases  are  connected  with  our  impressions. 
There  are  certain  relations  which  we  term  beautiful ; 
and  art  consists  in  finding  these  relations,  which 
are  simultaneous  in  painting,  the  plastic  art,  and 
architecture,  successive  and  simultaneous  in  music, 
and  purely  successive  in  poetry.  In  contradiction  to  the 
former  sestheticians,  Herbart  holds  that  objects  are  often 
beautiful  which  express  nothing  at  all,  as,  for  instance,  the 
rainbow,  which  is  beautiful  for  its  lines  and  colours,  and 
1  Schasler,  p.  1017.  -  Schasler,  pp.  1065,  1066. 

30  WHAT  IS  ART? 

not  for  its  mythological  connection  with  Iris  or  Noah's 

Another  opponent  of  Hegel  was  Schopenhauer,  who 
denied  Hegel's  whole  system,  his  aesthetics  included. 

According  to  Schopenhauer  (1788-1860),  Will  objectivizes 
itself  in  the  world  on  various  planes;  and  although  the 
higher  the  plane  on  which  it  is  objectivized  the  more 
beautiful  it  is,  yet  each  plane  has  its  own  beauty.  Re 
nunciation  of  one's  individuality  and  contemplation  of  one 
of  these  planes  of  manifestation  of  Will  gives  us  a  per 
ception  of  beauty.  All  men,  says  Schopenhauer,  possess 
the  capacity  to  objectivize  the  Idea  on  different  planes. 
The  genius  of  the  artist  has  this  capacity  in  a  higher  degree, 
and  therefore  makes  a  higher  beauty  manifest.2 

After  these  more  eminent  writers  there  followed,  in 
Germany,  less  original  and  less  influential  ones,  such  as 
Hartmann,  Kirkmann,  Schnasse,  and,  to  some  extent, 
Helmholtz  (as  an  sesthetician),  Bergmann,  Jungmann,  and  an 
innumerable  host  of  others. 

According  to  Hartmann  (1842),  beauty  lies,  not  in  the 
external  world,  nor  in  "  the  thing  in  itself,"  neither  does  it 
reside  in  the  soul  of  man,  but  it  lies  in  the  "seeming" 
(Schein)  produced  by  the  artist.  The  thing  in  itself  is  not 
beautiful,  but  is  transformed  into  beauty  by  the  artist.8 

According  to  Schnasse  (1798-1875),  there  is  no  perfect 
beauty  in  the  world.  In  nature  there  is  only  an  approach 
towards  it.  Art  gives  what  nature  cannot  give.  In  the 
energy  of  the  free  ego,  conscious  of  harmony  not  found  in 
nature,  beauty  is  disclosed.4 

Kirkmann  wrote  on  experimental  aesthetics.  All  aspects 
of  history  in  his  system  are  joined  by  pure  chance.  Thus, 
according  to  Kirkmann  (1802-1884),  there  are  six  realms 
of  history : — The  realm  of  Knowledge,  of  Wealth,  of 

1  Schasler,  pp.  1097-1100,  2  Schasler,  pp.  1124,  1107. 

3  Knight,  pp.  81,  82.  4  Knight,  p.  83. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  31 

Morality,  of  Faith,  of  Politics,  and  of  Beauty;  and  activity 
in  the  last-named  realm  is  art.1 

According  to  Helmholtz  (1821),  who  wrote  on  beauty  as 
it  relates  to  music,  beauty  in  musical  productions  is  attained 
only  by  following  unalterable  laws.  These  laws  are  not 
known  to  the  artist;  so  that  beauty  is  manifested  by  the 
artist  unconsciously,  and  cannot  be  subjected  to  analysis.2 

According  to  Bergmann  (1840)  (Ueber  das  ScJione,  1887), 
to  define  beauty  objectively  is  impossible.  Beauty  is  only 
perceived  subjectively,  and  therefore  the  problem  of  aesthetics 
is  to  define  what  pleases  whom.3 

According  to  Jungmann  (d.  1885),  firstly,  beauty  is  a 
suprasensible  quality  of  things ;  secondly,  beauty  produces 
in  us  pleasure  by  merely  being  contemplated ;  and,  thirdly, 
beauty  is  the  foundation  of  love.4 

The  aesthetic  theories  of  the  chief  representatives  of  France, 
England,  and  other  nations  in  recent  times  have  been  the 
following : — 

In  France,  during  this  period,  the  prominent  writers  on 
aesthetics  were  Cousin,  Jouffroy,  Pictet,  Eavaisson,  Leveque. 

Cousin  (1792-1867)  was  an  eclectic,  and  a  follower  of  the 
German  idealists.  According  to  his  theory,  beauty  always 
has  a  moral  foundation.  He  disputes  the  doctrine  that  art 
is  imitation  and  that  the  beautiful  is  what  pleases.  He 
affirms  that  beauty  may  be  defined  objectively,  and  that  it 
essentially  consists  in  variety  in  unity.5 

After  Cousin  came  Jouffroy  (1796-1842),  who  was  a  pupil 
of  Cousin's  and  also  a  follower  of  the  German  sestheticians. 
According  to  his  definition,  beauty  is  the  expression  of  the 
invisible  by  those  natural  signs  which  manifest  it.  The 
visible  world  is  the  garment  by  means  of  which  we  see  beauty.6 

The    Swiss    writer    Pictet    repeated    Hegel    and   Plato, 

1  Schasler,  p.  1121.  2  Knight,  pp.  85,  86. 

3  Knight,  p.  88.  4  Knight,  p.  88. 

5  Knight,  p.  112.  6  Knight,  p.  316. 

32  WHAT  IS  ART? 

supposing  beauty  to  exist  in  the  direct  and  free  manifesta 
tion  of  the  divine  Idea  revealing  itself  in  sense  forms.1 

LeVeque  was  a  follower  of  Schelling  and  Hegel.  He 
holds  that  beauty  is  something  invisible  behind  nature — a 
force  or  spirit  revealing  itself  in  ordered  energy.2 

Similar  vague  opinions  about  the  nature  of  beauty  were 
expressed  by  the  French  metaphysician  Kavaisson,  who 
considered  beauty  to  be  the  ultimate  aim  and  purpose  of  the 
world.  "  La  beaut e  la  plus  divine  et  principalement  la  plus 
parfaite  contient  le  secret  du  monde."5  And  again: — " Le 
monde  entier  est  Voeuvre  d'une  beaute  absolue,  qui  n'est  la 
cause  des  choses  que  par  V amour  qu'elle  met  en  elles." 

I  purposely  abstain  from  translating  these  metaphysical 
expressions,  because,  however  cloudy  the  Germans  may  be, 
the  French,  once  they  absorb  the  theories  of  the  Germans 
and  take  to  imitating  them,  far  surpass  them  in  uniting 
heterogeneous  conceptions  into  one  expression,  and  putting 
forward  one  meaning  or  another  indiscriminately.  For 
instance,  the  French  philosopher  Renouvier,  when  discussing 
beauty,  says: — " Ne  craignons pas  de  dire  qu'une  verite  qui 
ne  serait  pas  belle,  ne  serait  qu'un  jeu  logique  de  notre  esprit 
et  que  la  seule  verite  solide  et  digne  de  ce  nom  c'est  la  beaute. "  4 

Besides  the  aesthetic  idealists  who  wrote  and  still  write 
under  the  influence  of  German  philosophy,  the  following 
recent  writers  have  also  influenced  the  comprehension  of  art 
and  beauty  in  France :  Taine,  Guyau,  Cherbuliez,  Coster, 
and  Veron. 

According  to  Taine  (1828-1893),  beauty  is  the  manifesta 
tion  of  the  essential  characteristic  of  any  important  idea 
more  completely  than  it  is  expressed  in  reality.5 

Guyau  (1854-1888)  taught  that  beauty  is  not  something 
exterior  to  the  object  itself, — is  not,  as  it  were,  a  parasitic 

1  Knight,  pp.  118,  119.  2  Knight,  pp.  123,  124. 

3  La philosophie  en  France,  p.  232.         4  Du  fondement  de  I 'induction. 

5  Philosophic  de  Part,  vol.  i.  1893,  p.  47. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  33 

growth  on  it, — but  is  itself  the  very  blossoming  forth  of  that 
on  which  it  appears.  Art  is  the  expression  of  reasonable  and 
conscious  life,  evoking  in  us  both  the  deepest  consciousness 
of  existence  and  the  highest  feelings  and  loftiest  thoughts. 
Art  lifts  man  from  his  personal  life  into  the  universal  life, 
by  means,  not  only  of  participation  in  the  same  ideas  and 
beliefs,  but  also  by  means  of  similarity  in  feeling.1 

According  to  Cherbuliez,  art  is  an  activity,  (1)  satisfying 
our  innate  love  of  forms  (apparences),  (2)  endowing  these 
forms  with  ideas,  (3)  affording  pleasure  alike  to  our  senses, 
heart,  and  reason.  Beauty  is  not  inherent  in  objects,  but  is 
an  act  of  our  souls.  Eeauty  is  an  illusion;  there  is  no 
absolute  beauty.  But  what  we  consider  characteristic  and 
harmonious  appears  beautiful  to  us. 

Coster  held  that  the  ideas  of  the  beautiful,  the  good,  and 
the  true  are  innate.  These  ideas  illuminate  our  minds  and 
are  identical  with  God,  who  is  Goodness,  Truth,  and  Beauty. 
The  idea  of  Beauty  includes  unity  of  essence,  variety  of 
constitutive  elements,  and  order,  which  brings  unity  into 
the  various  manifestations  of  life.2 

For  the  sake  of  completeness,  I  will  further  cite  some  of 
the  very  latest  writings  upon  art. 

La  psychologie  du  Beau  et  de  I' Art, par  Mario  Pilo  (1895), 
says  that  beauty  is  a  product  of  our  physical  feelings.  The 
aim  of  art  is  pleasure,  but  this  pleasure  (for  some  reason)  he 
considers  to  be  necessarily  highly  moral. 

The  Essai  sur  Tart  contemporain,  par  Fierens  Gevaert 
(1897),  says  that  art  rests  on  its  connection  with  the  past, 
and  on  the  religious  ideal  of  the  present  which  the  artist 
holds  when  giving  to  his  work  the  form  of  his  individuality. 

Then  again,  Sar  Peladan's  L'art  idealiste  et  mystique  (1894) 
?ays  that  beauty  is  one  of  the  manifestations  of  God.     "  II  riy 
a  pas  d'autre  Realiti  que  Dim,  it  riy  a  pas  d'autre   Verite 
qua  Dieu,  il  riy  a  pas  d'autre  Beaute,  que  Dieu "  (p.  33). 
1  Knight,  p.  139-141.  2  Knight,  pp.  134. 


34  WHAT  IS  ART? 

This  book  is  very  fantastic  and  very  illiterate,  but  is 
characteristic  in  the  positions  it  takes  up,  and  noticeable  on 
account  of  a  certain  success  it  is  having  with  the  younger 
generation  in  France. 

All  the  aesthetics  diffused  in  France  up  to  the  present  time 
are  similar  in  kind,  but  among  them 'Veion'sL'esthetique  (1878) 
forms  an  exception,  being  reasonable  and  clear.  That  work, 
though  it  does  not  give  an  exact  definition  of  art,  at  least 
rids  aesthetics  of  the  cloudy  conception  of  an  absolute  beauty, 

According  to  Yeron  (1825-1889),  art  is  the  manifestation 
of  emotion  transmitted  externally  by  a  combination  of  lines, 
forms,  colours,  or  by  a  succession  of  movements,  sounds,  or 
words  subjected  to  certain  rhythms.1 

In  England,  during  this  period,  the  writers  on  aesthetics 
define  beauty  more  and  more  frequently,  not  by  its  own 
qualities,  but  by  taste,  and  the  discussion  about  beauty  is 
superseded  by  a  discussion  on  taste. 

After  Reid  (1704-1796),  who  acknowledged  beauty  as 
being  entirely  dependent  on  the  spectator,  Alison,  in  "his 
Essay  on  the  Nature  and  Principles  of  Taste  (1790),  proved 
the  same  thing.  From  another  side  this  was  also  asserted 
by  Erasmus  Darwin  (1731-1802),  the  grandfather  of  the 
celebrated  Charles  Darwin. 

He  says  that  we  consider  beautiful  that  which  is  con 
nected  in  our  conception  with  what  we  love.  Richard 
Knight's  work,  An  Analytical  Inquiry  into  the  Principles  of 
Taste,  also  tends  in  the  same  direction. 

Most  of  the  English  theories  of  aesthetics  are  on  the  same 
lines.  The  prominent  writers  on  aesthetics  in  England 
during  the  present  century  have  been  Charles  Darwin,  (to 
some  extent),  Herbert  Spencer,  Grant  Allen,  Ker,  and 

According   to    Charles   Darwin   (1809-1882— Descent  of 
Man,  1871),  beauty  is  a  feeling  natural  not  only  to   man 
1  L'esthdtique,  p.  106. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  35 

but  also  to  animals,  and  consequently  to  the  ancestors  of 
man.  Birds  adorn  their  nests  and  esteem  beauty  in  their 
mates.  Beauty  has  an  influence  on  marriages.  Beauty 
includes  a  variety  of  diverse  conceptions.  The  origin  of 
the  art  of  music  is  the  call  of  the  males  to  the  females.1 

According  to  Herbert  Spencer  (b.  1820),  the  origin  of 
art  is  play,  a  thought  previously  expressed  by  Schiller.  In 
the  lower  animals  all  the  energy  of  life  is  expended  in  life- 
maintenance  and  race-maintenance ;  in  man,  however,  there 
remains,  after  these  needs  are  satisfied,  some  superfluous 
strength.  This  excess  is  used  in  play,  which  passes  over 
into  art.  Play  is  an  imitation  of  real  activity,  so  is  art. 
The  sources  of  esthetic  pleasure  are  threefold  : —  (1)  That 
"  which  exercises  the  faculties  affected  in  the  most  complete 
ways,  with  the  fewest  drawbacks  from  excess  of  exercise," 
(2)  "the  difference  of  a  stimulus  in  large  amount,  which 
awakens  a  glow  of  agreeable  feeling,"  (3)  the  partial  revival 
of  the  same,  with  special  combinations.2 

In  Todhunter's  Theory  of  the  Beautiful  (1872),  beauty  is 
infinite  loveliness,  which  we  apprehend  both  by  reason  and 
by  the  enthusiasm  of  love.  The  recognition  of  beauty  as 
being  such  depends  on  taste ;  there  can  be  no  criterion  for 
it.  The  only  approach  to  a  definition  is  found  in  culture. 
(What  culture  is,  is  not  defined.)  Intrinsically,  art — that 
which  affects  us  through  lines,  colours,  sounds,  or  words — 
is  not  the  product  of  blind  forces,  but  of  reasonable  ones, 
working,  with  mutual  helpfulness,  towards  a  reasonable 
aim.  Beauty  is  the  reconciliation  of  contradictions.3 

Grant  Allen  is  a  follower  of  Spencer,  and  in  his 
Physiological  ^Esthetics  (1877)  he  says  that  beauty  has  a 
physical  origin.  ^Esthetic  pleasures  come  from  the  con 
templation  of  the  beautiful,  but  the  conception  of  beauty  is 
obtained  by  a  physiological  process.  The  origin  of  art  is 

1  Knight,  p.  238.  "  Knight,  pp.  239,  240. 

3  Knight,  pp.  240-243. 

36  WHAT  IS  ART? 

play ;  when  there  is  a  superfluity  of  physical  strength  man 
gives  himself  to  play  ;  when  there  is  a  superfluity  of  receptive 
power  man  gives  himself  to  art.  The  beautiful  is  that  which 
affords  the  maximum  of  stimulation  with  the  minimum  of 
waste.  Differences  in  the  estimation  of  beauty  proceed  from 
taste.  Taste  can  be  educated.  We  must  have  faith  in  the 
judgments  "of  the  finest-nurtured  and  most  discriminative  " 
men.  These  people  form  the  taste  of  the  next  generation.1 

According  to  Ker's  Essay  on  the  Philosophy  of  Art 
(1883),  beauty  enables  us  to  make  part  of  the  objective 
world  intelligible  to  ourselves  without  being  troubled  by 
reference  to  other  parts  of  it,  as  is  inevitable  for  science. 
So  that  art  destroys  the  opposition  between  the  one  and 
the  many,  between  the  law  and  its  manifestation,  between 
the  subject  and  its  object,  by  uniting  them.  Art  is  the 
revelation  and  vindication  of  freedom,  because  it  is  free 
from  the  darkness  and  incomprehensibility  of  finite  things.2 

According  to  Knight's  Philosophy  of  the  Beautiful, 
Part  II.  (1893),  beauty  is  (as  with  Schelling)  the  union  of 
object  and  subject,  the  drawing  forth  from  nature  of  that 
which  is  cognate  to  man,  and  the  recognition  in  oneself  of 
that  which  is  common  to  all  nature. 

The  opinions  on  beauty  and  on  Art  here  mentioned  are  far 
from  exhausting  what  has  been  written  on  the  subject.  And 
every  day  fresh  writers  on  aesthetics  arise,  in  whose  disquisi- 
tions  appear  the  same  enchanted  confusion  and  contradictori- 
ness  in  defining  beauty.  Some,  by  inertia,  continue  the 
mystical  aesthetics  of  Baumgarten  and  Hegel  with  sundry 
variations;  others  transfer  the  question  to  the  region  of 
subjectivity,  and  seek  for  the  foundation  of  the  beautiful  in 
questions  of  taste  ;  others — the  aestheticians  of  the  very  latest 
formation — seek  the  origin  of  beauty  in  the  laws  of  physi- 
ology ;  and  finally,  others  again  investigate  the  question 
quite  independently  of  the  conception  of  beauty.  Thus, 
1  Knight,  pp.  250-252.  2  Knight,  pp.  258,  259. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  37 

Sully  in  his  Sensation  and  Intuition :  Studies  in  Psychology 
and  ^Esthetics  (1874),  dismisses  the  conception  of  beauty 
altogether,  art,  by  his  definition,  being  the  production  of 
some  permanent  object  or  passing  action  fitted  to  supply 
active  enjoyment  to  the  producer,  and  a  pleasurable  im 
pression  to  a  number  of  spectators  or  listeners,  quite  apart 
from  any  personal  advantage  derived  from  it.1 
1  Knight,  p.  243. 


To  what  do  these  definitions  of  beauty  amount?  Xot 
reckoning  the  thoroughly  inaccurate  definitions  of  beauty 
which  fail  to  cover  the  conception  of  art,  and  which  suppose 
beauty  to  consist  either  in  utility,  or  in  adjustment  to  a 
purpose,  or  in  symmetry,  or  in  order,  or  in  proportion,  or  in 
smoothness,  or  in  harmony  of  the  parts,  or  in  unity  amid 
variety,  or  in  various  combinations  of  these, — not  reckoning 
these  unsatisfactory  attempts  at  objective  definition,  all  the 
aesthetic  definitions  of  beauty  lead  to  two  fundamental 
conceptions.  The  first  is  that  beauty  is  something  having  an 
independent  existence  (existing  in  itself),  that  it  is  one  of 
the  manifestations  of  the  absolutely  Perfect,  of  the  Idea,  of 
the  Spirit,  of  Will,  or  of  God ;  the  other  is  that  beauty  is 
a  kind  of  pleasure  received  by  us,  not  having  personal 
advantage  for  its  object. 

The  first  of  these  definitions  was  accepted  by  Fichte, 
Schelling,  Hegel,  Schopenhauer,  and  the  philosophising 
Frenchmen,  Cousin,  Jouffroy,  Ravaisson,  and  others,  not  to 
enumerate  the  second-rate  aesthetic  philosophers.  And  this 
same  objective-mystical  definition  of  beauty  is  held  by  a 
majority  of  the  educated  people  of  our  day.  It  is  a  conception 
very  widely  spread,  especially  among  the  elder  generation. 

The  second  view,  that  beauty  is  a  certain  kind  of  pleasure 
received  by  us,  not  having  personal  advantage  for  its  aim, 
finds  favour  chiefly  among  the  English  aesthetic  writers,  and  is 
shared  by  the  other  part  of  our  society,  principally  by  the 
younger  generation. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  39 

So  there  are  (and  it  could  not  be  otherwise)  only  two 
definitions  of  beauty :  the  one  objective,  mystical,  merging 
this  conception  into  that  of  the  highest  perfection,  God — a 
fantastic  definition,  founded  on  nothing ;  the  other,  on  the 
contrary,  a  very  simple  and  intelligible  subjective  one, 
which  considers  beauty  to  be  that  which  pleases  (I  do  not 
add  to  the  word  "  pleases  "  the  words  "  without  the  aim  of 
advantage,"  because  "pleases"  naturally  presupposes  the 
absence  of  the  idea  of  profit). 

On  the  one  hand,  beauty  is  viewed  as  something  mystical 
and  very  elevated,  but  unfortunately  at  the  same  time  very 
indefinite,  and  consequently  embracing  philosophy,  religion, 
and  life  itself  (as  in  the  theories  of  Schelling  and  Hegel, 
and  their  German  and  French  followers) ;  or,  on  the  other 
hand  (as  necessarily  follows  from  the  definition  of  Kant  and 
his  adherents),  beauty  is  simply  a  certain  kind  of  disinterested 
pleasure  received  by  us.  And  this  conception  of  beauty, 
although  it  seems  very  clear,  is,  unfortunately,  again  inexact ; 
for  it  widens  out  on  the  other  side,  i.e.  it  includes  the 
pleasure  derived  from  drink,  from  food,  from  touching  a 
delicate  skin,  etc.,  as  is  acknowledged  by  Guyau,  Kralik, 
and  others. 

It  is  true  that,  following  the  development  of  the  aesthetic 
doctrines  on  beauty,  we  may  notice  that,  though  at  first  (in 
the  times  when  the  foundations  of  the  science  of  aesthetics 
were  being  laid)  the  metaphysical  definition  of  beauty 
prevailed,  yet  the  nearer  we  get  to  our  own  times  the 
more  does  an  experimental  definition  (recently  assuming  a 
physiological  form)  come  to  the  front,  so  that  at  last  we 
even  meet  with  such  sestheticians  as  Veron  and  Sully,  who  try 
to  escape  entirely  from  the  conception  of  beauty.  But  such 
aestheticians  have  very  little  success,  and  with  the  majority  of 
the  public,  as  well  as  of  artists  and  the  learned,  a  conception 
of  beauty  is  firmly  held  which  agrees  with  the  definitions 
contained  in  most  of  the  aesthetic  treatises,  i.e.  which  regards 

40  WHAT  IS  ART? 

beauty  either  as  something  mystical  or  metaphysical,  or  as 
a  special  kind  of  enjoyment. 

What  then  is  this  conception  of  beauty,  so  stubbornly 
held  to  by  people  of  our  circle  and  day  as  furnishing  a 
definition  of  art? 

In  the  subjective  aspect,  we  call  beauty  that  which 
supplies  us  with  a  particular  kind  of  pleasure. 

In  the  objective  aspect,  we  call  beauty  something 
absolutely  perfect,  and  we  acknowledge  it  to  be  so  only 
because  we  receive,  from  the  manifestation  of  this  absolute 
perfection,  a  certain  kind  of  pleasure ;  so  that  this  objective 
definition  is  nothing  but  the  subjective  conception  differently 
expressed.  In  reality  both  conceptions  of  beauty  amount 
to  one  and  the  same  thing,  namely,  the  reception  by  us  of 
a  certain  kind  of  pleasure,  i.e.  we  call  "beauty"  that  which 
pleases  us  without  evoking  in  us  desire. 

Such  being  the  position  of  affairs,  it  would  seem  only 
natural  that  the  science  of  art  should  decline  to  content 
itself  with  a  definition  of  art  based  on  beauty  (i.e.  on  that 
which  pleases),  arid  seek  a  general  definition,  which  should 
apply  to  all  artistic  productions,  and  by  reference  to  which 
we  might  decide  whether  a  certain  article  belonged  to  the 
realm  of  art  or  not.  But  no  such  definition  is  supplied,  as 
the  reader  may  see  from  those  summaries  of  the  aesthetic 
theories  which  I  have  given,  and  as  he  may  discover  even 
more  clearly  from  the  original  aesthetic  works,  if  he  will  be 
at  the  pains  to  read  them.  All  attempts  to  define  absolute 
beauty  in  itself — whether  as  an  imitation  of  nature,  or  as 
suitability  to  its  object,  or  as  a  correspondence  of  parts,  or  as 
symmetry,  or  as  harmony,  or  as  unity  in  variety,  etc. — 
either  define  nothing  at  all,  or  define  only  some  traits  of 
some  artistic  productions,  and  are  far  from  including  all 
that  everybody  has  always  held,  and  still  holds,  to  be  art. 

There  is  no  objective  definition  of  beauty.  The  existing 
definitions,  (both  the  metaphysical  and  the  experimental), 

WHAT  IS  ART?  41 

amount  only  to  one  and  the  same  subjective  definition  which 
(strange  as  it  seems  to  say  so)  is,  that  art  is  that  which  makes 
beauty  manifest,  and  beauty  is  that  which  pleases  (without 
exciting  desire).  Many  aestheticians  have  felt  the  insufficiency 
and  instability  of  such  a  definition,  and,  in  order  to  give  it 
a  firm  basis,  have  asked  themselves  Avhy  a  thing  pleases. 
And  they  have  converted  the  discussion  on  beauty  into 
a  question  concerning  taste,  as  did  Hutcheson,  Voltaire, 
Diderot,  and  others.  But  all  attempts  to  define  what  taste 
is  must  lead  to  nothing,  as  the  reader  may  see  both  from  the 
history  of  aesthetics  and  experimentally.  There  is  and  can 
be  no  explanation  of  why  one  thing  pleases  one  man  and 
displeases  another,  or  vice  versa.  So  that  the  whole  existing 
science  of  aesthetics  fails  to  do  what  we  might  expect  from 
it,  being  a  mental  activity  calling  itself  a  science,  namely, 
it  does  not  define  the  qualities  and  laws  of  art,  or  of  the 
beautiful  (if  that  be  the  content  of  art),  or  the  nature  of 
taste  (if  taste  decides  the  question  of  art  and  its  merit),  and 
then,  on  the  basis  of  such  definitions,  acknowledge  as  art 
those  productions  which  correspond  to  these  laws,  and  reject 
those  which  do  not  come  under  them.  But  this  science  of 
aesthetics  consists  in  first  acknowledging  a  certain  set  of 
productions  to  be  art  (because  they  please  us),  and  then 
framing  such  a  theory  of  art  that  all  those  productions  which 
please  a  certainTcTi'cle  of  people  should  fit  into  it.  There 
exists  an  art  canon,  according  to  which  certain  productions 
favoured  by  our  circle  are  acknowledged  as  being  art, — 
Phidias,  Sophocles,  Homer,  Titian,  Raphael,  Bach,  Beethoven, 
Dante,  Shakespear,  Goethe,  and  others, — and  the  aesthetic 
laws  must  be  such  as  to  embrace  all  these  productions.  In 
aesthetic  literature  you  will  incessantly  meet  with  opinions 
on  the  merit  and  importance  of  art,  founded  not  on  any 
certain  laws  by  which  this  or  that  is  held  to  be  good  or  bad, 
but  merely  on  the  consideration  whether  this  art  tallies  with 
the  art  canon  we  have  drawn  up. 

42  WHAT  IS  ART? 

The  other  day  I  was  reading  a  far  from  ill-written  book 
by  Folgeldt.  Discussing  the  demand  for  morality  in  works 
of  art,  the  author  plainly  says  that  we  must  not  demand 
morality  in  art.  And  in  proof  of  this  he  advances  the  fact 
that  if  we  admit  such  a  demand,  Shakespear's  Romeo  and 
Juliet  and  Goethe's  Wilhelm  Meister  would  not  fit  into  the 
definition  of  good  art;  but  since  both  these  books  are 
included  in  our  canon  of  art,  he  concludes  that  the  demand  is 
unjust.  And  therefore  it  is  necessary  to  find  a  definition  of 
art  which  shall  fit  the  works ;  and  instead  of  a  demand  for 
morality,  Folgeldt  postulates  as  the  basis  of  art  a  demand 
for  the  important  (Bedeutungsvolles). 

All  the  existing  aesthetic  standards  are  built  on  this  plan. 
Instead  of  giving  a  definition  of  true  art,  and  then  deciding 
what  is  and  what  is  not  good  art  by  judging  whether  a 
work  conforms  or  does  not  conform  to  the  definition,  a 
certain  class  of  works,  which  for  some  reason  please  a  certain 
circle  of  people,  is  accepted  as  being  art,  and  a  definition  of 
art  is  then  devised  to  cover  all  these  productions.  I  recently 
came  upon  a  remarkable  instance  of  this  method  in  a  very 
good  German  work,  The  History  of  Art  in  the  Nineteenth 
Century,  by  Muther.  Describing  the  pre-Eaphaelites,  the 
Decadents  and  the  Symbolists  (who  are  already  included  in 
the  canon  of  art),  he  not  only  does  not  venture  to  blame 
their  tendency,  but  earnestly  endeavours  to  widen  his 
standard  so  that  it  may  include  them  all,  they  appearing  to 
him  to  represent  a  legitimate  reaction  from  the  excesses  of 
realism.  No  matter  what  insanities  appear  in  art,  when 
once  they  find  acceptance  among  the  upper  classes  of  our 
society  a  theory  is  quickly  invented  to  explain  and  sanction 
them ;  just  as  if  there  had  never  been  periods  in  history  when 
certain  special  circles  of  people  recognised  and  approved 
false,  deformed,  and  insensate  art  which  subsequently  left 
no  trace  and  has  been  utterly  forgotten.  And  to  what 
lengths  the  insanity  and  deformity  of  art  may  go,  especially 

WHAT  IS  ART?  43 

when,  as  in  our  days,  it  knows  that  it  is  considered  infallible, 
may  be  seen  by  what  is  being  done  in  the  art  of  our  circle 

So  that  the  theory  of  art,  founded  on  beauty,  expounded 
by  aesthetics,  and,  in  dim  outline,  professed  by  the  public,  is 
nothing  but  the  setting  up  as  good,  of  that  which  has  pleased 
and  pleases  us,  i.e.  pleases  a  certain  class  of  people. 

In  order  to  define  any  human  activity,  it  is  necessary  to 
understand  its  sense  and  importance.  And,  in  order  to  do 
that,  it  is  primarily  necessary  to  examine  that  activity  in 
itself,  in  its  dependence  on  its  causes,  and  in  connection 
with  its  effects,  and  not  merely  in  relation  to  the  pleasure 
we  can  get  from  it. 

If  we  say  that  the  aim  of  any  activity  is  merely  our 
pleasure,  and  define  it  solely  by  that  pleasure,  our  definition 
will  evidently  be  a  false  one.  But  this  is  precisely  what 
has  occurred  in  the  efforts  to  define  art.  Now,  if  we 
consider  the  food  question,  it  will  not  occur  to  anyone  to 
affirm  that  the  importance  of  food  consists  in  the  pleasure 
we  receive  when  eating  it.  Everyone  understands  that  the 
satisfaction  of  our  taste  cannot  serve  as  a  basis  for  our 
definition  of  the  merits  of  food,  and  that  we  have  therefore 
no  right  to  presuppose  that  the  dinners  with  cayenne  pepper, 
Limburg  cheese,  alcohol,  etc.,  to  which  we  are  accustomed 
and  which  please  us,  form  the  very  best  human  food. 

And  in  the  same  way,  beauty,  or  that  which  pleases  us, 
can  in  no  sense  serve  as  the  basis  for  the  definition  of  art ; 
nor  can  a  series  of  objects  which  afford  us  pleasure  serve  as 
the  model  of  what  art  should  be. 

To  see  the  aim  and  purpose  of  art  in  the  pleasure  we  get 
from  it,  is  like  assuming  (as  is  done  by  people  of  the  lowest 
moral  development,  e.g.  by  savages)  that  the  purpose  and 
aim  of  food  is  the  pleasure  derived  when  consuming  it. 

Just  as  people  who  conceive  the  aim  and  purpose  of  food 
to  be  pleasure  cannot  recognise  the  real  meaning  of  eating, 

44  WHAT  IS  ART? 

so  people  who  consider  the  aim  of  art  to  be  pleasure  cannot 
realise  its  true  meaning  and  purpose,  because  they  attribute 
to  an  activity,  the  meaning  of  which  lies  in  its  connection 
with  other  phenomena  of  life,  the  false  and  exceptional  aim 
of  pleasure.  People  come  to  understand  that  the  meaning 
of  eating  lies  in  the  nourishment  of  the  body  only  when 
they  cease  to  consider  that  the  object  of  that  activity  is 
pleasure.  And  it  is  the  same  with  regard  to  art.  People 
will  come  to  understand  the  meaning  of  art  only  when  they 
cease  to  consider  that  the  aim  of  that  activity  is  beauty,  i.e. 
pleasure.  The  acknowledgment  of  beauty  (i.e.  of  a  certain 
kind  of  pleasure  received  from  art)  as  being  the  aim  of  art, 
not  only  fails  to  assist  us  in  finding  a  definition  of  what 
art  is,  but,  on  the  contrary,  by  transferring  the  question 
into  a  region  quite  foreign  to  art  (into  metaphysical, 
psychological,  physiological,  and  even  historical  discussions 
as  to  why  such  a  production  pleases  one  person,  and  such 
another  displeases  or  pleases  someone  else),  it  renders  such 
definition  impossible.  And  since  discussions  as  to  why  one 
man  likes  pears  and  another  prefers  meat  do  not  help  towards 
finding  a  definition  of  what  is  essential  in  nourishment,  so 
the  solution  of  questions  of  taste  in  art  (to  which  the 
discussions  on  art  involuntarily  come)  not  only  doos  not 
help  to  make  clear  what  this  particular  human  activity 
which  we  call  art  really  consists  in,  but  renders  such 
elucidation  quite  impossible,  until  we  rid  ourselves  of  a 
conception  which  justifies  every  kind  of  art,  at  the  cost  of 
confusing  the  whole  matter. 

To  the  question,  What  is  this  art,  to  which  is  offered  up 
the  labour  of  millions,  the  very  lives  of  men,  and  even 
morality  itself  ?  we  have  extracted  replies  from  the  existing 
aesthetics,  which  all  amount  to  this :  that  the  aim  of  art  is 
beauty,  that  beauty  is  recognised  by  the  enjoyment  it  gives, 
and  that  artistic  enjoyment  is  a  good  and  important  thing, 
because  it  is  enjoyment.  In  a  word,  that  enjoyment  is  good 

WHAT  IS  ART?  45 

because  it  is  enjoyment.  Thus,  what  is  considered  the 
definition  of  art  is  no  definition  at  all,  but  only  a  shuffle 
to  justify  existing  art.  Therefore,  however  strange  it  may 
seem  to  say  so,  in  spite  of  the  mountains  of  books  written 
about  art,  no  exact  definition  of  art  has  been  constructed. 
And  the  reason  of  this  is  that  the  conception  of  art  has 
been  based  on  the  conception  of  beauty. 


WHAT  is  art,  if  we  put  aside  the  conception  of  beauty, 
which  confuses  the  whole  matter  1  The  latest  and  most  com 
prehensible  definitions  of  art,  apart  from  the  conception  of 
beauty,  are  the  following : — (1  a)  Art  is  an  activity  arising 
even  in  the  animal  kingdom,  and  springing  from  sexual 
desire  and  the  propensity  to  play  (Schiller,  Darwin,  Spencer), 
and  (1  b)  accompanied  by  a  pleasurable  excitement  of  the 
nervous  system  (Grant  Allen).  This  is  the  physiological- 
evolutionary  definition.  (2)  Art  is  the  external  manifestation, 
by  means  of  lines,  colours,  movements,  sounds,  or  words, 
of  emotions  felt  by  man  (V6ron).  This  is  the  experimental 
definition.  According  to  the  very  latest  definition  (Sully), 
(3)  Art  is  "the  production  of  some  permanent  object,  or 
passing  action,  which  is  fitted  not  only  to  supply  an  active 
enjoyment  to  the  producer,  but  to  convey  a  pleasurable 
impression  to  a  number  of  spectators  or  listeners,  quite  apart 
from  any  personal  advantage  to  be  derived  from  it." 

Notwithstanding  the  superiority  of  these  definitions  to  the 
metaphysical  definitions  which  depended  on  the  conception 
of  beauty,  they  are  yet  far  from  exact.  (1  a)  The  first,  the 
physiological-evolutionary  definition,  is  inexact,  because, 
instead  of  speaking  about  the  artistic  activity  itself,  which 
is  the  real  matter  in  hand,  it  treats  of  the  derivation  of  art. 
The  modification  of  it  (1  6),  based  on  the  physiological  effects 
on  the  human  organism,  is  inexact,  because  within  the  limits 
of  such  definition  many  other  human  .ctrvities  can  be 
included,  as  has  occurred  in  the  neo-aesthetic  theories,  which 


WHAT  IS  ART?  47 

reckon  as  art  the  preparation  of  handsome  clothes,  pleasant 
scents,  and  even  of  victuals. 

The  experimental  definition  (2),  which  makes  art  consist 
in  the  expression  of  emotions,  is  inexact,  because  a  man  may 
express  his  emotions  by  means  of  lines,  colours,  sounds,  or 
words,  and  yet  may  not  act  on  others  by  such  expression ; 
and  then  the  manifestation  of  his  emotions  is  not  art. 

The  third  definition  (that  of  Sully)  is  inexact,  because 
in  the  production  of  objects  or  actions  affording  pleasure 
to  the  producer  and  a  pleasant  emotion  to  the  spectators 
or  hearers  apart  from  personal  advantage,  may  be  included 
the  showing  of  conjuring  tricks  or  gymnastic  exercises, 
and  other  activities  which  are  not  art.  And,  further, 
many  things,  the  production  of  which  does  not  afford 
pleasure  to  the  producer,  and  the  sensation  received  from 
which  is  unpleasant,  such  as  gloomy,  heart-rending  scenes 
in  a  poetic  description  or  a  play,  may  nevertheless  be 
undoubted  works  of  art. 

The  inaccuracy  of  all  these  definitions  arises  from  the  fact 
that  in  them  all  (as  also  in  the  metaphysical  definitions)  the 
object  considered  is  the  pleasure  art  may  give,  and  not  the 
purpose  it  may  serve  in  the  life  of  man  and  of  humanity. 

In  order  correctly  to  define  art,  it  is  necessary,  first  of  all, 
to  cease  to  consider  it  as  a  means  to  pleasure,  and  to  consider . 
it  as  one  of  the  conditions  of  human  life.     Viewing  it  in 
this  way,  we  cannot  fail  to  observe  that  art  is  one  of  the 
means  of  intercourse  between  man  and  man. 

Every  work  of  art  causes  the  receiver  to  enter  into  a 
certain  kind  of  relationship  both  with  him  who  produced, 
or  is  producing,  the  art,  and  with  all  those  who,  simul 
taneously,  previously  or  subsequently,  receive  the  same 
artistic  impression. 

Speech,  transmitting  the  thoughts  and  experiences  of 
men,  serves  as  a  means  of  union  among  them,  and  art  acts 
in  a  similar  manner.  The  peculiarity  of  this  latter  means 

48  WHAT  IS  ART? 

of  intercourse,  distinguishing  it  from  intercourse  by  means 
of  words,  consists  in  this,  that  whereas  by  words  a  man 
transmits  his  thoughts  to  another,  by  means  of  art  he 
transmits  his  feelings. 

The  activity  of  art  is  based  on  the  fact  that  a  man, 
receiving  through  his  sense  of  hearing  or  sight  another 
man's  expression  of  feeling,  is  capable  of  experiencing  the 
•emotion  which  moved  the  man  who  expressed  it.  To  take 
the  simplest  example  :  one  man  laughs,  and  another,  who 
hears,  becomes  merry;  or  a  man  weeps,  and  another,  who 
hears,  feels  sorrow.  A  man  is  excited  or  irritated,  and 
•another  man,  seeing  him,  comes  to  a  similar  state  of  mind. 
By  his  movements,  or  by  the  sounds  of  his  voice,  a  man 
expresses  courage  and  determination,  or  sadness  and  calm 
ness,  and  this  state  of  mind  passes  on  to  others.  A  man 
suffers,  expressing  his  sufferings  by  groans  and  spasms, 
and  this  suffering  transmits  itself  to  other  people  ;  a  man 
expresses  his  feeling  of  admiration,  devotion,  fear,  respect,  or 
love  to  certain  objects,  persons,  or  phenomena,  and  others 
are  infected  by  the  same  feelings  of  admiration,  devotion, 
fear,  respect,  or  love  to  the  same  objects,  persons,  and 

And  it  is  on  this  capacity  of  man  to  receive  another  man's 
expression  of  feeling,  and  experience  those  feelings  himself, 
that  the  activity  of  art  is  based. 

If  a  man  infects  another  or  others,  directly,  immediately,  by 
his  appearance,  or  by  the  sounds  he  gives  vent  to  at  the  very 
time  he  experiences  the  feeling ;  if  he  causes  another  man 
to  yawn  when  he  himself  cannot  help  yawning,  or  to  laugh 
or  cry  when  he  himself  is  obliged  to  laugh  or  cry,  or  to  suffer 
when  he  himself  is  suffering — that  does  not  amount  to  art. 

Art  begins  when  one  person,  with  the  object  of  joining 
another  or  others  to  himself  in  one  and  the  same  feeling, 
expresses  that  feeling  by  certain  external  indications.  To 
take  the  simplest  example  :  a  boy,  having  experienced,  let  us 

WHAT  IS  ART?  49 

say,  fear  on  encountering  a  wolf,  relates  that  encounter ;  and, 
in  order  to  evoke  in  others  the  feeling  he  has  experienced, 
describes  himself,  his  condition  before  the  encounter,  the 
surroundings,  the  wood,  his  own  lightheartedness,  and  then 
the  wolf's  appearance,  its  movements,  the  distance  between 
himself  and  the  wolf,  etc.  All  this,  if  only  the  boy  when 
telling  the  story,  again  experiences  the  feelings  he  had  lived 
through  and  infects  the  hearers  and  compels  them  to  feel 
what  the  narrator  had  experienced,  is  art.  If  even  the 
boy  had  not  seen  a  wolf  but  had  frequently  been  afraid  of 
one,  and  if,  wishing  to  evoke  in  others  the  fear  he  had  felt, 
he  invented  an  encounter  with  a  wolf,  and  recounted  it  so 
as  to  make  his  hearers  share  the  feelings  he  experienced 
when  he  feared  the  wolf,  that  also  would  be  art.  And 
just  in  the  same  way  it  is  art  if  a  man,  having  experienced 
either  the  fear  of  suffering  or  the  attraction  of  enjoyment 
(whether  in  reality  or  in  imagination),  expresses  these 
feelings  on  canvas  or  in  marble  so  that  others  are  infected 
by  them.  And  it  is  also  art  if  a  man  feels  or  imagines 
to  himself  feelings  of  delight,  gladness,  sorrow,  despair, 
courage,  or  Despondency^  and  the  transition  from  one  to 
another  of  these  feelings,  and  expresses  these  feelings  by 
sounds,  so  that  the  hearers  are  infected  by  them,  and 
experience  them  as  they  were  experienced  by  the  composer. 

The  feelings  with  which  the  artist  infects  others  may  be 
most  various — very  strong  or  very  weak,  very  important  or 
very  insignificant,  very  bad  or  very  good :  feelings  of  love 
for  native  land,  self-devotion  and  submission  to  fate  or  to 
God  expressed  in  a  drama,  raptures  of  lovers  described  in 
a  novel,  feelings  of  voluptuousness  expressed  in  a  picture, 
courage  expressed  in  a  triumphal  inarch,  merriment  evoked 
by  a  dance,  humour  evoked  by  a  funny  story,  the  feeling 
of  quietness  transmitted  by  an  evening  landscape  or  by  a 
lullaby,  or  the  feeling  of  admiration  evoked  by  a  beautiful 
arabesque — it  is  all  art. 

50  WHAT  IS  ART? 

If  only  the  spectators  or  auditors  are  infected  by  the 
feelings  which  the  author  has  felt,  it  is  art. 

To  evoke  in  oneself  a  feeling  one  has  once  experienced,  and 
having  evoked  it  in  oneself,  then,  by  means  of  movements,  lines, 
colours,  sounds,  or  forms  expressed  in  ivords,  so  to  transmit 
that  feeling  that  others  may  experience  the  same  feeling — 
this  is  the  activity  of  art. 

Art  is  a  human  activity,  consisting  in  this,  that  one  man 
consciously,  by  means  of  certain  external  signs,  hands  on  to 
others  feelings  he  has  lived  through,  and  that  other  people 
are  infected  by  these  feelings,  and  also  experience  them. 

Art  is  not,  as  the  metaphysicians  say,  the  manifestation 
of  some  mysterious  Idea  of  beauty,  or  God ;  it  is  not,  as  the 
sesthetical  physiologists  say,  a  game  in  which  man  lets  off  his 
excess  of  stored-up  energy ;  it  is  not  the  expression  of  man's 
emotions  by  external  signs;  it  is  not  the  production  of 
pleasing  objects ;  and,  above  all,  it  is  not  pleasure  ;  but  it  is 
a  means  of  union  among  men,  joining  them  together  in  the 
same  feelings,  and  indispensable  for  the  life  and  progress 
towards  well-being  of  individuals  and  of  humanity. 

As,  thanks  to  man's  capacity  to  express  thoughts  by  words, 
every  man  may  know  all  that  has  been  done  for  him  in  the 
realms  of  thought  by  all  humanity  before  his  day,  and  can,  in 
the  present,  thanks  to  this  capacity  to  understand  the  thoughts 
of  others,  become  a  sharer  in  their  activity,  and  can  himself 
hand  on  to  his  contemporaries  and  descendants  the  thoughts 
he  has  assimilated  from  others,  as  well  as  those  which  have 
arisen  within  himself;  so,  thanks  to  man's  capacity  to  be 
infected  with  the  feelings  of  others  by  means  of  art,  all  that 
is  being  lived  through  by  his  contemporaries  is  accessible  to 
him,  as  well  as  the  feelings  experienced  by  men  thousands  of 
years  ago,  and  he  has  also  the  possibility  of  transmitting  his 
own  feelings  to  others. 

If  people  lacked  this  capacity  to  receive  the  thoughts 
conceived  by  the  men  who  preceded  them,  and  to  pass  on  to 

WHAT  IS  ART?  51 

others  their  own  thoughts,  men  would  he  like  wild  beasts,  or 
like  Ivaspar  Hauser.1 

And  if  men  lacked  this  other  capacity  of  being  infected  by 
art,  people  might  be  almost  more  savage  still,  and,  above  all, 
more  separated  from,  and  more  hostile  to,  one  another. 

And  therefore  the  activity  of  art  is  a  most  important  one, 
as  important  as  the  activity  of  speech  itself,  and  as  generally 

We  are  accustomed  to  understand  art  to  be  only  what  we 
hear  and  see  in  theatres,  concerts,  and  exhibitions ;  together 
with  buildings,  statues,  poems,  novels.  .  .  .  But  all  this  is  but 
the  smallest  part  of  the  art  by  which  we  communicate  with 
each  other  in  life.  All  human  life  is  filled  with  works  of 
art  of  every  kind — from  cradle-song,  jest,  mimicry,  the 
ornamentation  of  houses,  dress  and  utensils,  up  to  church 
services,  buildings,  monuments,  and  triumphal  processions. 
It  is  all  artistic  activity.  So  that  by  art,  in  the  limited 
sense  of  the  word,  we  do  not  mean  all  human  activity 
transmitting  feelings,  but  only  that  part  which  we  for 
some  reason  select  from  it  and  to  which  we  attach  special 

This  special  importance  has  always  been  given  by  all 
men  to  that  part  of  this  activity  which  transmits  feelings 
flowing  from  their  religious  perception,  and  this  small  part 
of  art  they  have  specifically  called  art,  attaching  to  it  the 
full  meaning  of  the  word. 

That  was  how  men  of  old — Socrates,  Plato,  and  Aristotle 
— looked  on  art.  Thus  did  the  Hebrew  prophets  and  the 
ancient  Christians  regard  art;  thus  it  was,  and  still  is, 

1  "The  foundling  ol'  Nuremberg,"  found  in  the  market-place  of 
that  town  on  26th  May  1828,  apparently  some  sixteen  years  old. 
He  spoke  little,  and  was  almost  totally  ignorant  even  of  common 
objects.  He  subsequently  explained  that  he  had  been  brought  up  in 
confinement  underground,  and  visited  by  only  one  man,  whom  he  saw 
but  seldom. — Trans. 

52  WHAT  IS  ART? 

understood  by  the  Mahommedans,  and  thus  is  it  still  under 
stood  by  religious  folk  among  our  own  peasantry. 

Some  teachers  of  mankind — as  Plato  in  his  Republic, 
and  people  such  as  the  primitive  Christians,  the  strict 
Mahommedans,  and  the  Buddhists — have  gone  so  far  as  to 
repudiate  all  art. 

People  viewing  art  in  this  way  (in  contradiction  to  the 
prevalent  view  of  to-day,  which  regards  any  art  as  good  if 
only  it  affords  pleasure)  considered,  and  consider,  that  art 
(as  contrasted  with  speech,  which  need  not  be  listened  to)  is  so 
highly  dangerous  in  its  power  to  infect  people  against  their 
wills,  that  mankind  will  lose  far  less  by  banishing  all  art 
than  by  tolerating  each  and  every  art. 

Evidently  such  people  were  wrong  in  repudiating  all 
art,  for  they  denied  that  which  cannot  be  denied — one  of 
the  indispensable  means  of  communication,  without  which 
mankind  could  not  exist.  But  not  less  wrong  are  the  people 
of  civilised  European  society  of  our  class  and  day,  in 
favouring  any  art  if  it  but  serves  beauty,  i.e.  gives  people 

Formerly,  people  feared  lest  among  the  works  of  art 
there  might  chance  to  be  some  causing  corruption,  and  they 
prohibited  art  altogether.  Now,  they  only  fear  lest  they 
should  be  deprived  of  any  enjoyment  art  can  afford,  and 
patronise  any  art.  And  I  think  the  last  error  is  much 
grosser  than  the  first,  and  that  its  consequences  are  far 
more  harmful. 


Bur  how  could  it  happen  that  that  very  art,  which  in 
ancient  times  was  merely  tolerated  (if  tolerated  at  all), 
should  have  come,  in  our  times,  to  be  invariably  considered 
a  good  thing  if  only  it  affords  pleasure  1 

It  has  resulted  from  the  following  causes.  The  estimation 
of  the  value  of  art  (i.e.  of  the  feelings  it  transmits)  depends 
on  men's  perception  of  the  meaning  of  life ;  depends  on 
what  they  consider  to  be  the  good  and  the  evil  of  life. 
And  what  is  good  and  what  is  evil  is  denned  by  what  are 
termed  religions. 

Humanity  unceasingly  moves  forward  from  a  lower,  more 
partial,  and  obscure  understanding  of  life,  to  one  more 
general  and  more  lucid.  And  in  this,  as  in  every  movement, 
there  are  leaders, — those  who  have  understood  the  meaning 
of  life  more  clearly  than  others, — and  of  these  advanced  men 
there  is  always  one  who  has,  in  his  words  and  by  his  life, 
expressed  this  meaning  more  clearly,  accessibly,  and  strongly 
than  others.  This  man's  expression  of  the  meaning  of  life, 
together  with  those  superstitions,  traditions,  and  ceremonies 
which  usually  form  themselves  round  the  memory  of  such  a 
man,  is  what  is  called  a  religion.  Religions  are  the  ex 
ponents  of  the  highest  comprehension  of  life  accessible  to 
the  best  and  foremost  men  at  a  given  time  in  a  given  society  ; 
a  comprehension  towards  which,  inevitably  and  irresistibly, 
all  the  rest  of  that  society  must  advance.  And  therefore 
only  religions  have  always  served,  and  still  serve,  as  bases 
for  the  valuation  of  human  sentiments.  If  feelings  bring 

53  , 

54  WHAT  IS  ART? 

men  nearer  the  ideal  their  religion  indicates,  if  they  are 
in  harmony  with  it  and  do  not  contradict  it,  they  are  good ; 
if  they  estrange  men  from,  it  and  oppose  it,  they  are  bad. 

If  the  religion  places  the  meaning  of  life  in  worshipping 
one  God  and  fulfilling  what  is  regarded  as  His  will,  as  was 
the  case  among  the  Jews,  then  the  feelings  flowing  from 
love  to  that  God,  and  to  His  law,  successfully  transmitted 
through  the  art  of  poetry  by  the  prophets,  by  the  psalms,  or 
by  the  epic  of  the  book  of  Genesis,  is  good,  high  art.  All 
opposing  that,  as  for  instance  the  transmission  of  feelings 
of  devotion  to  strange  gods,  or  of  feelings  incompatible  with 
the  law  of  God,  would  be  considered  bad  art.  Or  if,  as 
was  the  case  among  the  Greeks,  the  religion  places  the 
meaning  of  life  in  earthly  happiness,  in  beauty  and  in 
strength,  then  art  successfully  transmitting  the  joy  and 
energy  of  life  would  be  considered  good  art,  but  art  which 
transmitted  feelings  of  effeminacy  or  despondency  would  be 
bad  art.  If  the  meaning  of  life  is  seen  in  the  well-being 
of  one's  nation,  or  in  honouring  one's  ancestors  and  con 
tinuing  the  mode  of  life  led  by  them,  as  was  the  case  among 
the  Romans  and  the  Chinese  respectively,  then  art  trans 
mitting  feelings  of  joy  at  sacrificing  one's  personal  well-being 
for  the  common  weal,  or  at  exalting  one's  ancestors  and 
maintaining  their  traditions,  would  be  considered  good  art ; 
but  art  expressing  feelings  contrary  to  this  would  be  regarded 
as  bad.  If  the  meaning  of  life  is  seen  in  freeing  oneself  from 
the  yoke  of  animalism,  as  is  the  case  among  the  Buddhists, 
then  art  successfully  transmitting  feelings  that  elevate  the 
soul  and  humble  the  flesh  will  be  good  art,  and  all  that 
transmits  feelings  strengthening  the  bodily  passions  will  be 
bad  art. 

In  every  age,  and  in  every  human  society,  there  exists  a 
religious  sense,  common  to  that  whole  society,  of  what  is 
good  and  what  is  bad,  and  it  is  this  religious  conception 
that  decides  the  value  of  the  feelings  transmitted  by  art. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  55 

And  therefore,  among  all  nations,  art  which  transmitted 
feelings  considered  to  be  good  by  this  general  religious 
sense  was  recognised  as  being  good  and  was  encouraged ; 
but  art  which  transmitted  feelings  considered  to  be  bad  by 
this  general  religious  conception,  was  recognised  as  being 
bad,  and  was  rejected.  All  the  rest  of  the  immense  field 
of  art  by  means  of  which  people  communicate  one  with 
another,  was  not  esteemed  at  all,  and  was  only  noticed  when 
it  ran  counter  to  the  religious  conception  of  its  age,  and 
then  merely  to  be  repudiated.  Thus  it  was  among  all 
nations, — Greeks,  Jews,  Indians,  Egyptians,  and  Chinese, 
— and  so  it  was  when  Christianity  appeared. 

The  Christianity  of  the  first  centuries  recognised  as 
productions  of  good  art,  only  legends,  lives  of  saints, 
sermons,  prayers  and  hymn-singing,  evoking  love  of  Christ, 
emotion  at  his  life,  desire  to  follow  his  example,  renuncia 
tion  of  worldly  life,  humility,  and  the  love  of  others ;  all 
productions  transmitting  feelings  of  personal  enjoyment 
they  considered  to  be  bad,  and  therefore  rejected :  for 
instance,  tolerating  plastic  representations  only  when  they 
were  symbolical,  they  rejected  all  the  pagan  sculptures. 

This  was  so  among  the  Christians  of  the  first  centuries, 
who  accepted  Christ's  teaching,  if  not  quite  in  its  true  form, 
at  least  not  in  the  perverted,  paganised  form  in  which  it 
was  accepted  subsequently. 

But  besides  this  Christianity,  from  the  time  of  the  whole 
sale  conversion  of  nations  by  order  of  the  authorities,  as  in 
the  days  of  Constantino,  Charlemagne,  and  Vladimir,  there 
appeared  another,  a  Church  Christianity,  which  was  nearer 
to  paganism  than  to  Christ's  teaching.  And  this  Church 
Christianity,  in  accordance  with  its  own  teaching,  estimated 
quite  otherwise  the  feelings  of  people  and  the  productions 
of  art  which  transmitted  those  feelings. 

This  Church  Christianity  not  only  did  not  acknowledge  the 
fundamental  and  essential  positions  of  true  Christianity, — 

56  WHAT  IS  ART? 

the  immediate  relationship  of  each  man  to  the  Father,  the 
consequent  brotherhood  and  equality  of  all  men,  and  the 
substitution  of  humility  and  love  in  place  of  every  kind  of 
violence — but,  on  the  contrary,  having  set  up  a  heavenly 
hierarchy  similar  to  the  pagan  mythology,  and  having  intro 
duced  the  worship  of  Christ,  of  the  Virgin,  of  angels,  of 
apostles,  of  saints,  and  of  martyrs,  and  not  only  of  these 
divinities  themselves,  but  also  of  their  images,  it  made  blind 
faith  in  the  Church  and  its  ordinances  the  essential  point  of 
its  teaching. 

However  foreign  this  teaching  may  have  been  to  true 
Christianity,  however  degraded,  not  only  in  comparison 
with  true  Christianity,  but  even  with  the  life-conception  of 
Romans  such  as  Julian  and  others ;  it  was,  for  all  that, 
to  the  barbarians  who  accepted  it,  a  higher  doctrine 
than  their  former  adoration  of  gods,  heroes,  and  good 
and  bad  spirits.  And  therefore  this  teaching  was  a 
religion  to  them,  and  on  the  basis  of  that  religion  the 
art  of  the  time  was  assessed.  And  art  transmitting  pious 
adoration  of  the  Virgin,  Jesus,  the  saints  and  the  angels, 
a  blind  faith  in  and  submission  to  the  Church,  fear  of 
torments  and  hope  of  blessedness  in  a  life  beyond  the 
grave,  was  considered  good ;  all  art  opposed  to  this  was 
considered  bad. 

The  teaching  on  the  basis  of  which  this  art  arose  was  a 
perversion  of  Christ's  teaching,  but  the  art  which  sprang  up 
on  this  perverted  teaching  was  nevertheless  a  true  art, 
because  it  corresponded  to  the  religious  view  of  life  held  by 
the  people  among  whom  it  arose. 

The  artists  of  the  Middle  Ages,  vitalised  by  the  same 
source  of  feeling — religion — as  the  mass  of  the  people,  and 
transmitting,  in  architecture,  sculpture,  painting,  music, 
poetry  or  drama,  the  feelings  and  states  of  mind  they 
experienced,  were  true  artists ;  and  their  activity,  founded 
on  the  highest  conceptions  accessible  to  their  age  and 

WHAT  IS  ART?  57 

common  to  the  entire  people,  though,  for  our  times  a 
mean  art,  was,  nevertheless  a  true  one,  shared  by  the 
whole  community. 

And  this  was  the  state  of  things  until,  in  the  upper,  rich, 
more  educated  classes  of  European  society,  doubt  arose  as  to 
the  truth  of  that  understanding  of  life  which  was  expressed 
by  Church  Christianity.  When,  after  the  Crusades  and  the 
maximum  development  of  papal  power  and  its  abuses, 
people  of  the  rich  classes  became  acquainted  with  the  wisdom 
of  the  classics,  and  saw,  on  the  one  hand,  the  reasonable 
lucidity  of  the  teaching  of  the  ancient  sages,  and,  on  the 
other  hand,  the  incompatibility  of  the  Church  doctrine  with 
the  teaching  of  Christ,  they  lost  all  possibility  of  continuing 
to  believe  the  Church  teaching. 

If,  in  externals,  they  still  kept  to  the  forms  of  Church 
teaching,  they  could  no  longer  believe  in  it,  and  held  to  ib 
only  by  inertia  and  for  the  sake  of  influencing  the  masses, 
who  continued  to  believe  blindly  in  Church  doctrine,  and 
whom  the  upper  classes,  for  their  own  advantage,  considered 
it  necessary  to  support  in  those  beliefs. 

So  that  a  time  came  when  Church  Christianity  ceased  to 
be  the  general  religious  doctrine  of  all  Christian  people; 
some — the  masses — continued  blindly  to  believe  in  it,  but 
the  upper  classes — those  in  whose  hands  lay  the  power  and 
wealth,  and  therefore  the  leisure  to  produce  art  and  the 
means  to  stimulate  it — ceased  to  believe  in  that  teaching. 

In  respect  to  religion,  the  upper  circles  of  the  Middle  Ages 
found  themselves  in  the  same  position  in  which  the  educated 
Romans  were  before  Christianity  arose,  i.e.  they  no  longer 
believed  in  the  religion  of  the  masses,  but  had  no  beliefs  to 
put  in  place  of  the  worn-out  Church  doctrine  which  for  them 
had  lost  its  meaning. 

There  was  only  this  difference,  that  whereas  for  the 
Romans  who  lost  faith  in  their  emperor-gods  and  household- 
gods  it  was  impossible  to  extract  anything  further  from  all 

58  WHAT  IS  ART? 

the  complex  mythology  they  had  borrowed  from  all  the 
conquered  nations,  and  it  was  consequently  necessary  to  find 
a  completely  new  conception  of  life,  the  people  of  the  Middle 
Ages,  when  they  doubted  the  truth  of  the  Church  teaching, 
had  no  need  to  seek  a  fresh  one.  That  Christian  teaching 
which  they  professed  in  a  perverted  form  as  Church  doctrine, 
had  mapped  out  the  path  of  human  progress  so  far  ahead, 
that  they  had  but  to  rid  themselves  of  those  perversions 
which  hid  the  teaching  announced  by  Christ,  and  to  adopt 
its  real  meaning — if  not  completely,  then  at  least  in  some 
greater  degree  than  that  in  which  the  Church  had  held  it. 
And  this  was  partially  done,  not  only  in  the  reformations  of 
Wyclif,  Huss,  Luther,  and  Calvin,  but  by  all  that  current 
of  non-Church  Christianity,  represented  in  earlier  times 
by  the  Paulicians,  the  Bogomili,1  and,  afterwards,  by  the 
Waldenses  and  the  other  non-Church  Christians  who  were 
called  heretics.  But  this  could  be,  and  was,  done  chiefly 
by  poor  people — who  did  not  rule.  A  few  of  the  rich  and 
strong,  like  Francis  of  Assisi  and  others,  accepted  the 
Christian  teaching  in  its  full  significance,  even  though  it 
undermined  their  privileged  positions.  But  most  people  of 
the  upper  classes  (though  in  the  depth  of  their  souls  they 
had  lost  faith  in  the  Church  teaching)  could  not  or  would 
not  act  thus,  because  the  essence  of  that  Christian  view 
of  life,  which  stood  ready  to  be  adopted  when  once  they 
rejected  the  Church  faith,  was  a  teaching  of  the  brotherhood 
(and  therefore  the  equality)  of  man,  and  this  negatived 
those  privileges  on  which  they  lived,  in  which  they  had 
grown  up  and  been  educated,  and  to  which  they  were 
accustomed.  Not,  in  the  depth  of  their  hearts,  believing  in 
the  Church  teaching, — which  had  outlived  its  age  and  had 
no  longer  any  true  meaning  for  them, — and  not  being  strong 

1  Eastern  sects  well  known  in  early  Church  history,  who  rejected 
the  Church's  rendering  of  Christ's  teaching  and  were  cruelly  per 
secuted.  —Trans. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  59 

enough  to  accept  true  Christianity,  men  of  these  rich, 
governing  classes — popes,  kings,  dukes,  and  all  the  great  ones 
of  the  earth — were  left  without  any  religion,  with  but  the 
external  forms  of  one,  which  they  supported  as  being 
profitable  and  even  necessary  for  themselves,  since  these 
forms  screened  a  teaching  which  justified  those  privileges 
which  they  made  use  of.  In  reality,  these  people  believed 
in  nothing,  just  as  the  Eomans  of  the  first  centuries  of  our 
era  believed  in  nothing.  But  at  the  same  time  these  were 
the  people  who  had  the  power  and  the  wealth,  and  these 
were  the  people  who  rewarded  art  and  directed  it. 

And,  let  it  be  noticed,  it  was  just  among  these  people  that 
there  grew  up  an  art  esteemed  not  according  to  its  success  in 
expressing  men's  religious  feelings,  but  in  proportion  to  its 
beauty, — in  other  words,  according  to  the  enjoyment  it 

No  longer  able  to  believe  in  the  Church  religion  whose 
falsehood  they  had  detected,  and  incapable  of  accepting  true 
Christian  teaching,  which  denounced  their  whole  manner  of 
life,  these  rich  and  powerful  people,  stranded  without  any 
religious  conception  of  life,  involuntarily  returned  to  that 
pagan  view  of  things  which  places  life's  meaning  in  personal 
enjoyment.  And  then  took  place  among  the  upper  classes 
what  is  called  the  "Renaissance  of  science  and  art,"  and 
which  was  really  not  only  a  denial  of  every  religion  but 
also  an  assertion  that  religion  is  unnecessary. 

The  Church  doctrine  is  so  coherent  a  system  that  it  cannot 
be  altered  or  corrected  without  destroying  it  altogether.  As 
soon  as  doubt  arose  with  regard  to  the  infallibility  of  the 
pope  (and  this  doubt  was  then  in  the  minds  of  all  educated 
people),  doubt  inevitably  followed  as  to  the  truth  of  tradition. 
But  doubt  as  to  the  truth  of  tradition  is  fatal  not  only  to 
popery  and  Catholicism,  but  also  to  the  whole  Church  creed 
with  all  its  dogmas :  the  divinity  of  Christ,  the  resurrection, 
and  the  Trinity ;  and  it  destroys  the  authority  of  the 

60  WHAT  IS  ART  J 

Scriptures,  since  they  were  considered  to  be  inspired  only 
because  the  tradition  of  the  Church  decided  it  so. 

So  that  the  majority  of  the  highest  classes  of  that  age, 
even  the  popes  and  the  ecclesiastics,  really  believed  in 
nothing  at  all.  In  the  Church  doctrine  these  people  did 
not  believe,  for  they  saw  its  insolvency ;  but  neither  could 
they  follow  Francis  of  Assisi,  Keltchitsky,1  and  most  of  the 
heretics,  in  acknowledging  the  moral,  social  teaching  of 
Christ,  for  that  teaching  undermined  their  social  position. 
And  so  these  people  remained  without  any  religious  view 
of  life.  And,  having  none,  they  could  have  no  standard 
wherewith  to  estimate  what  was  good  and  what  was  bad  art 
but  that  of  personal  enjoyment.  And,  having  acknowledged 
their  criterion  of  what  was  good  to  be  pleasure,  i.e.  beauty, 
these  people  of  the  upper  classes  of  European  society  went 
back  in  their  comprehension  of  art  to  the  gross  conception 
of  the  primitive  Greeks  which  Plato  had  already  condemned. 
And  conformably  to  this  understanding  of  life  a  theory  of 
art  was  formulated. 

1  Keltchitsky,  a  Bohemian  of  the  fifteenth  century,  was  the  author 
of  a  remarkable  book,  The  Net  of  Faith,  directed  against  Church  and 
State.  It  is  mentioned  in  Tolstoy's  The  Kingdom  of  God  is  Within 
You. — Trans. 


FROM  the  time  that  people  of  the  upper  classes  lost  faith  in 
Church  Christianity,  beauty  (i.e.  the  pleasure  received  from 
art)  became  their  standard  of  good  and  bad  art.  And,  in 
accordance  with  that  view,  an  aesthetic  theory  naturally  sprang 
up  among  those  upper  classes  justifying  such  a  conception,  — 
a  theory  according  to  which  the  aim  of  art  is  to  exhibit 
beauty.  The  partisans  of  this  aesthetic  theory,  in  confirma 
tion  of  its  truth,  affirmed  that  it  was  no  invention  of  their 
own,  but  that  it  existed  in  the  nature  of  things,  and  was 
recognised  even  by  the  ancient  Greeks.  But  this  assertion 
was  quite  arbitrary,  and  has  no  foundation  other  than  the 
fact  that  among  the  ancient  Greeks,  in  consequence  of 
the  low  grade  of  their  moral  ideal  (as  compared  with  the 
Christian),  their  conception  of  the  good,  TO  <lya#6V,  was  not 
yet  sharply  divided  from  their  conception  of  the  beautiful, 

That  highest  perfection  of  goodness  (not  only  not  identical 
with  beauty,  but,  for  the  most  part,  contrasting  with  it)  which 
was  discerned  by  the  Jews  even  in  the  times  of  Isaiah,  and 
fully  expressed  by  Christianity,  was  quite  unknown  to  the 
Greeks.  They  supposed  that  the  beautiful  must  necessarily 
also  be  the  good.  It  is  true  that  their  foremost  thinkers  — 
Socrates,  Plato,  Aristotle  —  felt  that  goodness  may  happen  not 
to  coincide  with  beauty.  Socrates  expressly  subordinated 
beauty  to  goodness;  Plato,  to  unite  the  two  conception?, 
spoke  of  spiritual  beauty  ;  while  Aristotle  demanded  from  art 
that  it  should  have  a  moral  influence  on  people  (/ca#apo-is). 


62  WHAT  IS  ART? 

But,  notwithstanding  all  this,"  they  could  not  quite  dismiss 
the  notion  that  beauty  and  goodness  coincide. 

And  consequently,  in  the  language  of  that  period,  a 
compound  word  (/caAo-icdya&'a,  beauty-goodness),  came  into 
use  to  express  that  notion. 

Evidently  the  Greek  sages  began  to  draw  near  to  that 
perception  of  goodness  which  is  expressed  in  Buddhism  and 
in  Christianity,  and  they  got  entangled  in  denning  the 
relation  between  goodness  and  beauty.  Plato's  reasonings 
about  beauty  and  goodness  are  full  of  contradictions.  And 
it  was  just  this  confusion  of  ideas  that  those  Europeans  of 
a  later  age,  who  had  lost  all  faith,  tried  to  elevate  into  a 
law.  They  tried  to  prove  that  this  union  of  beauty  and 
goodness  is  inherent  in  the  very  essence  of  things ; 
that  beauty  and  goodness  must  coincide;  and  that 
the  word  and  conception  KaX.o-KayaOta  (which  had  a 
meaning  for  Greeks  but  has  none  at  all  for  Christians) 
represents  the  highest  ideal  of  humanity.  On  this  mis 
understanding  the  new  science  of  aesthetics  was  built  up. 
And,  to  justify  its  existence,  the  teachings  of  the  ancients 
on  art  were  so  twisted  as  to  make  it  appear  that  this 
invented  science  of  aesthetics  had  existed  among  the  Greeks. 

In  reality,  the  reasoning  of  the  ancients  on  art  was  quite 
unlike  ours.  As  Benard,  in  his  book  on  the  aesthetics  of 
Aristotle,  quite  justly  remarks  :  "  Pour  qui  veut  y  regarderde 
pre.<,  la  theorie  du  beau  et  celle  de  I'art  sont  tout  a  fait  separees 
dans  Aristote,  comme  elles  le  sont  dans  Platon  et  chez  tons 
leurs  successeurs  "  (L'esthetique  d'Aristote  et  de  ses  successeurs, 
Paris,  1889,  p.  28).1  And  indeed  the  reasoning  of  the 
ancients  on  art  not  only  does  not  confirm  our  science  of 
aesthetics,  but  rather  contradicts  its  doctrine  of  beauty.  But 
nevertheless  all  the  aesthetic  guides,  from  Schasler  to  Knight, 

1  Any  one  examining  closely  may  see  that  the  theory  of  beauty  and 
that  of  art  are  quite  separated  in  Aristotle  as  they  are  in  Plato  and  in 
all  their  successors. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  63 

declare  that  the  science  of  the  beautiful — aesthetic  science — 
was  commenced  by  the  ancients,  by  Socrates,  Plato,  Aristotle ; 
and  was  continued,  they  say,  partially  by  the  Epicureans 
and  Stoics :  by  Seneca  and  Plutarch,  down  to  Plotinus.  But 
it  is  supposed  that  this  science,  by  some  unfortunate  accident, 
suddenly  vanished  in  the  fourth  century,  and  stayed  away  for 
about  1500  years,  and  only  after  these  1500  years  had  passed 
did  it  revive  in  Germany,  A.D.  1750,  in  Baumgarten's  doctrine. 

After  Plotinus,  says  Schasler,  fifteen  centuries  passed 
away  during  which  there  was  not  the  slightest  scientific 
interest  felt  for  the  world  of  beauty  and  art.  These  one 
and  a  half  thousand  years,  says  he,  have  been  lost  to  aesthetics 
and  have  contributed  nothing  towards  the  erection  of  the 
learned  edifice  of  this  science.1 

In  reality  nothing  of  the  kind  happened.  The  science  of 
aesthetics,  the  science  of  the  beautiful,  neither  did  nor  could 
vanish  because  it  never  existed.  Simply,  the  Greeks  (just 

1  Die  Liicke  von  fiinf  Jalirhunderten,  welche  zwischen  den  Kunst- 
philosophischen  Betrachtuugen  des  Plato  und  Aristoteles  und  die  des 
Plotins  falltj  kanii  zwar  auffallig  erseheinen  ;  denuoch  kann  man 
eigentlich  nicht  sagen,  dass  in  diesef  Zwischenzeit  uberhaupt  von 
iisthetischen  Dingen  nicht  die  Rede  gevvesen  ;  oder  dass  gar  ein  volliger 
Mangel  an  Zusarnmenhang  zwischen  den  Kunst-anschauungen  des 
letztgenanuten  PMlosophen  und  denen  der  ersteren  existire.  Freilich 
wurde  die  von  Aristoteles  begriindete  Wissenschaft  in  Nichts  dadurch 
gefordert ;  immerhin  aber  zeigt  sich  in  jener  Zwischenzeit  noch 
ein  gewisses  Interesse  fiir  ii.sthetisclie  Fragen.  Nach  Plotin  aber,  die 
wenigen,  ihm  in  der  Zeit  nahestehenden  Philosophen,  wie  Longinr 
Augustin,  u.  s.  f.  konimen,  wie  wir  gesehen,  kaum  in  Betracht  und 
schliessen  sich  iibrigens  in  ihrer  Anschauungswcise  an  ihn  an, — 
vergehen  nicht  fiinf,  sondern  funfzehn  Jahrhunderte,  in  denen  von 
irgend  einer  wissenschaftlicheii  Interesse  fiir  die  Welt  des  Schonen  und 
der  Kunst  nichts  zu  spiiren  ist. 

Diese  anderthalbtauseud  Jahre,  innerhalb  deren  der  Weltgeist 
durch  die  rnannigfachsten  Kampfe  hindurch  zu  einer  vollig  neuen 
Gestaltung  des  Lebens  sich  durcharbeitete,  sind  fiir  die  Aesthetik, 
hinsichtlich  des  weitereu  Ausbaus  dieser  Wissenschaft  verloren. — ]\lax 

64  WHAT  IS  ART  ? 

like  everybody  else,  always  and  everywhere)  considered 
art  (like  everything  else)  good  only  when  it  served  goodness 
(as  they  understood  goodness),  and  bad  when  it  was  in 
opposition  to  that  goodness.  And  the  Greeks  themselves 
were  so  little  developed  morally,  that  goodness  and  beauty 
seemed  to  them  to  coincide.  On  that  obsolete  Greek  view 
of  life  was  erected  the  science  of  aesthetics,  invented  by  men 
of  the  eighteenth  century,  and  especially  shaped  and 
mounted  in  Baumgarten's  theory.  The  Greeks  (as  anyone 
may  see  who  will  read  Benard's  admirable  book  on  Aristotle 
and  his  successors,  and  Walter's  work  on  Plato)  never  had  a 
science  of  aesthetics. 

^Esthetic  theories  arose  about  one  hundred  and  fifty 
years  ago  among  the  wealthy  classes  of  the  Christian 
European  world,  and  arose  simultaneously  among  different 
nations, — German,  Italian,  Dutch,  French,  and  English. 
The  founder  and  organiser  of  it,  who  gave  it  a  scientific, 
theoretic  form,  was  Baumgarten. 

With  a  characteristically  German,  external  exactitude, 
pedantry  and  symmetry,  he  devised  and  expounded  this 
extraordinary  theory.  And,  notwithstanding  its  obvious 
insolidity,  nobody  else's  theory  so  pleased  the  cultured 
crowd,  or  was  accepted  so  readily  and  with  such  an 
absence  of  criticism.  It  so  suited  the  people  of  the  upper 
classes,  that  to  this  day,  notwithstanding  its  entirely  fantastic 
character  and  the  arbitrary  nature  of  its  assertions,  it  is 
repeated  by  learned  and  unlearned  as  though  it  were  some 
thing  indubitable  and  self-evident. 

Habent  sua  fata  libelli  pro  capite  lectoris,  and  so,  or  even 
more  so,  theories  Jiabent  sua  fata  according  to  the  condition 
of  error  in  which  that  society  is  living,  among  whom  and  for 
whom  the  theories  are  invented.  If  a  theory  justifies  the  false 
position  in  which  a  certain  part  of  a  society  is  living,  then, 
however  unfounded  or  even  obviously  false  the  theory  may 
be,  it  is  accepted,  and  becomes  an  article  of  faith  to  that 

WHAT  IS  ART?  65 

section  of  society.  Such,  for  instance,  was  the  celebrated  and 
unfounded  theory  expounded  by  Malthus,  of  the  tendency 
of  the  population  of  the  world  to  increase  in  geometrical 
progression,  but  of  the  means  of  sustenance  to  increase  only 
in  arithmetical  progression,  and  of  the  consequent  over 
population  of  the  world ;  such,  also,  was  the  theory  (an 
outgrowth  of  the  Malthusian)  of  selection  and  struggle  for 
existence  as  the  basis  of  human  progress.  Such,  again,  is 
.Marx's  theory,  which  regards  the  gradual  destruction  of 
small  private  production  by  large  capitalistic  production 
now  going  on  around  us,  as  an  inevitable  decree  of  fate. 
However  unfounded  such  theories  are,  however  contrary  to 
all  that  is  known  and  confessed  by  humanity,  and  however 
obviously  immoral  they  may  be,  they  are  accepted  with 
credulity,  pass  uncriticised,  and  are  preached,  perchance 
for  centuries,  until  the  conditions  are  destroyed  which  they 
served  to  justify,  or  until  their  absurdity  has  become  too 
evident.  To  this  class  belongs  this  astonishing  theory  of 
the  Baumgartenian.  Trinity — Goodness,  Beauty,  and  Truth, 
according  to  which  it  appears  that  the  very  best  that  can  be 
done  by  the  art  of  nations  after  1900  years  of  Christian 
teaching,  is  to  choose  as  the  ideal  of  their  life  the  ideal  that 
was  held  by  a  small,  semi-savage,  slave-holding  people 
who  lived  2000  years  ago,  who  imitated  the  nude  human 
body  extremely  well,  and  erected  buildings  pleasant  to  look 
at.  All  these  incompatibilities  pass  completely  unnoticed. 
Learned  people  write  long,  cloudy  treatises  on  beauty  as  a 
member  of  the  aesthetic  trinity  of  Beauty,  Truth,  and  Good 
ness  ;  das  Schone,  das  Wahre,  das  Gute ;  le  Beau,  le  Vrai, 
Ic  Bon,  are  repeated,  with  capital  letters,  by  philosophers, 
restheticians  and  artists,  by  private  individuals,  by  novelists 
and  by  feuilletonistes,  and  they  all  think,  when  pronouncing 
these  sacrosanct  words,  that  they  speak  of  something  quite 
definite  and  solid — something  on  which  they  can  base  their  : 
opinions.  In  reality,  these  words  not  only  have  no  definite 

66  WHAT  IS  ART? 

meaning,  but  they  hinder  us  in  attaching  any  definite  mean 
ing  to  existing  art ;  they  are  wanted  only  for  the  purpose  of 
justifying  the  false  importance  we  attribute  to  an  art  that 
transmits  every  kind  of  feeling  if  only  those  feelings  afford 
us  pleasure. 


BUT  if  art  is  a  human  activity  having  for  its  purpose  the 
transmission  to  others  of  the  highest  and  best  feelings  to 
which  men  have  risen,  how  could  it  be  that  humanity 
for  a  certain  rather  considerable  period  of  its  existence 
(from  the  time  people  ceased  to  believe  in  Church  doctrine 
down  to  the  present  day)  should  exist  without  this  im 
portant  activity,  and,  instead  of  it,  should  put  up  with  an 
insignificant  artistic  activity  only  affording  pleasure  ? 

In  order  to  answer  this  question,  it  is  necessary,  first  of 
all,  to  correct  the  current  error  people  make  in  attributing 
to  our  art  the  significance  of  true,  universal  art.  We  are 
so  accustomed,  not  only  naively  to  consider  the  Circassian 
family  the  best  stock  of  people,  but  also  the  Anglo-Saxon 
race  the  best  race  if  we  are  Englishmen  or  Americans,  or 
the  Teutonic  if  we  are  Germans,  or  the  Gallo-Latin  if  we  are 
French,  or  the  Slavonic  if  we  are  Russians,  that  when 
speaking  of  our  own  art  we  feel  fully  convinced,  not  only 
that  our  art  is  true  art,  but  even  that  it  is  the  best  and  only 
true  art.  But  in  reality  our  art  is  not  only  not  the  only  art 
(as  the  Bible  once  was  held  to  be  the  only  book),  but  it  is 
not  even  the  art  of  the  whole  of  Christendom, — only  of  a 
small  section  of  that  part  of  humanity.  It  was  correct  to 
speak  of  a  national  Jewish,  Grecian,  or  Egyptian  art,  and  one 
may  speak  of  a  now-existing  Chinese,  Japanese,  or  Indian  art 
shared  in  by  a  whole  people.  Such  art,  common  to  a  whole 
nation,  existed  in  Russia  till  Peter  the  First's  time,  and  existed 
in  the  rest  of  Europe  until  the  thirteenth  or  fourteenth 


68  WHAT  IS  ART? 

century ;  but  since  the  upper  classes  of  European  society, 
having  lost  faith  in  the  Church  teaching,  did  not  accept  real 
Christianity  but  remained  without  any  faith,  one  can  110 
longer  speak  of  an  art  of  the  Christian  nations  in  the  sense 
of  the  whole  of  art.  Since  the  upper  classes  of  the  Christian 
nations  lost  faith  in  Church  Christianity,  the  art  of  those 
upper  classes  has  separated  itself  from  the  art  of  the  rest  of 
the  people,  and  there  have  been  two  arts — the  art  of  the 
people  and  genteel  art.  And  therefore  the  answer  to  the 
question  how  it  could  occur  that  humanity  lived  for  a 
certain  period  without  real  art,  replacing  it  by  art  which 
served  enjoyment  only,  is,  that  not  all  humanity,  nor  even 
any  considerable  portion  of  it,  lived  without  real  art,  but 
only  the  highest  classes  of  European  Christian  society,  and 
even  they  only  for  a  comparatively  short  time — from  the 
commencement  of  the  Renaissance  down  to  our  own  day. 

And  the  consequence  of  this  absence  of  true  art  showed 
itself,  inevitably,  in  the  corruption  of  that  class  which 
nourished  itself  on  the  false  art.  All  the  confused,  unin 
telligible  theories  of  art,  all  the  false  and  contradictory 
judgments  on  art,  and  particularly  the  self-confident  stagna 
tion  of  our  art  in  its  false  path,  all  arise  from  the  assertion, 
which  has  come  into  common  use  and  is  accepted  as  an 
unquestioned  truth,  but  is  yet  amazingly  and  palpably  false, 
the  assertion,  namely,  that  the  art  of  our  upper  classes l  is 
the  whole  of  art,  the  true,  the  only,  the  universal  art.  And 
although  this  assertion  (which  is  precisely  similar  to  the 
assertion  made  by  religious  people  of  the  various  Churches 
who  consider  that  theirs  is  the  only  true  religion)  is  quite 
arbitrary  and  obviously  unjust,  yet  it  is  calmly  repeated  by 
all  the  people  of  our  circle  with  full  faith  in  its  infallibility. 

1  The  contrast  made  is  between  the  classes  and  the  masses : 
between  those  who  do  not  and  those  who  do  earn  their  bread  by 
productive  manual  labour ;  the  middle  classes  being  taken  as  an 
offshoot  of  the  upper  classes. — Trans. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  69 

The  art  we  have  is  the  whole  of  art,  the  real,  the  only 
art,  and  yet  two-thirds  of  the  human  race  (all  the  peoples 
of  Asia  and  Africa)  live  and  die  knowing  nothing  of  this 
sole  and  supreme  art.  And  even  in  our  Christian  society 
hardly  one  per  cent,  of  the  people  make  use  of  this  art  which 
we  speak  of  as  being  the  whole  of  art ;  the  remaining  ninety- 
nine  per  cent,  live  and  die,  generation  after  generation, 
crushed  by  toil  and  never  tasting  this  art,  which  moreover 
is  of  such  a  nature  that,  if  they  could  get  it,  they  would  not 
understand  anything  of  it.  We,  according  to  the  current 
aesthetic  theory,  acknowledge  art  either  as  one  of  the  highest 
manifestations  of  the  Idea,  God,  Beauty,  or  as  the  highest 
spiritual  enjoyment;  furthermore,  we  hold  that  all  people 
have  equal  rights,  if  not  to  material,  at  any  rate  to  spiritual 
well-being ;  and  yet  ninety-nine  per  cent,  of  our  European 
population  live  and  die,  generation  after  generation,  crushed 
by  toil,  much  of  which  toil  is  necessary  for  the  production  of 
our  art  which  they  never  use,  and  we,  nevertheless,  calmly 
assert  that  the  art  which  we  produce  is  the  real,  true,  only 
.  art— all  of  art ! 

To  the  remark  that  if  our  art  is  the  true  art  everyone 
should  have  the  benefit  of  it,  the  usual  reply  is  that  if  not 
everybody  at  present  makes  use  of  existing  art,  the  fault 
lies,  not  in  the  art,  but  in  the  false  organisation  of  society ; 
that  one  can  imagine  to  oneself,  in  the  future,  a  state  of 
things  in  which  physical  labour  will  be  partly  superseded 
by  machinery,  partly  lightened  by  its  just  distribution,  and 
that  labour  for  the  production  of  art  will  be  taken  in  turns  ; 
that  there  is  no  need  for  some  people  always  to  sit  below  the 
stage  moving  the  decorations,  winding  up  the  machinery, 
working  at  the  piano  or  French  horn,  and  setting  type  and 
printing  books,  but  that  the  people  who  do  all  this  work 
might  be  engaged  only  a  few  hours  per  day,  and  in  their 
leisure  time  might  enjoy  all  the  blessings  of  art. 

That  is  what  the  defenders  of  our  exclusive  art  say.     But 

70  WHAT  TS  ART? 

I  think  they  do  not  themselves  believe  it.  They  cannot 
help  knowing  that  fine  art  can  arise  only  on  the  slavery  of 
the  masses  of  the  people,  and  can  continue  only  as  long  as 
that  slavery  lasts,  and  they  cannot  help  knowing  that  only 
under  conditions  of  intense  labour  for  the  workers,  can 
specialists— writers,  musicians,  dancers,  and  actors — arrive 
at  that  line  degree  of  perfection  to  which  they  do  attain, 
or  produce  their  refined  works  of  art ;  and  only  under  the 
same  conditions  can  there  be  a  line  public  to  esteem  such 
productions.  Free  the  slaves  of  capital,  and  it  will  be 
impossible  to  produce  such  refined  art. 

But  even  were  we  to  admit  the  inadmissible,  and  say  that 
means  may  be  found  by  which  art  (that  art  which  among  us 
is  considered  to  be  art)  may  be  accessible  to  the  whole 
people,  another  consideration  presents  itself  showing  that 
fashionable  art  cannot  be  the  whole  of  art,  viz.  the  fact 
that  it  is  completely  unintelligible  to  the  people.  Formerly 
men  wrote  poems  in  Latin,  but  now  their  artistic  productions 
are  as  unintelligible  to  the  common  folk  as  if  they  were 
written  in  Sanskrit.  The  usual  reply  to  this  is,  that  if  the 
people  do  not  now  understand  this  art  of  ours,  it  only  proves 
that  they  are  undeveloped,  and  that  this  has  been  so  at  each 
fresh  step  forward  made  by  art.  First  it  was  not  under 
stood,  but  afterwards  people  got  accustomed  to  it. 

"  It  will  be  the  same  with  our  present  art ;  it  will  be 
understood  when  everybody  is  as  well  educated  as  are  we — 
the  people  of  the  upper  classes — who  produce  this  art,"  say 
the  defenders  of  our  art.  But  this  assertion  is  evidently 
even  more  unjust  than  the  former ;  for  we  know  that  the 
majority  of  the  productions  of  the  art  of  the  upper  classes, 
such  as  various  odes,  poems,  dramas,  cantatas,  pastorals, 
pictures,  etc.,  which  delighted  the  people  of  the  upper 
classes  when  they  were  produced,  never  were  afterwards 
either  understood  or  valued  by  the  great  masses  of  man 
kind,  but  have  remained,  what  they  were  at  first,  a  mere 

WHAT  IS  ART?  71 

pastime  for  rich  people  of  their  time,  for  whom  alone  they 
ever  were  of  any  importance.  It  is  also  often  urged  in 
proof  of  the  assertion  that  the  people  will  some  day  under 
stand  our  art,  that  some  productions  of  so-called  "classical" 
poetry,  music,  or  painting,  which  formerly  did  not  please 
the  masses,  do — now  that  they  have  been  offered  to  them 
from  all  sides — begin  to  please  these  same  masses ;  but  this 
only  shows  that  the  crowd,  especially  the  half-spoilt  town 
crowd,  can  easily  (its  taste  having  been  perverted)  be 
accustomed  to  any  sort  of  art.  Moreover,  this  art  is  not 
produced  by  these  masses,  nor  even  chosen  by  them,  but 
is  energetically  thrust  upon  them  in  those  public  places  in 
which  art  is  accessible  to  the  people.  For  the  great  majority 
of  working  people,  our  art,  besides  being  inaccessible  on 
account  of  its  costliness,  is  strange  in  its  very  nature, 
transmitting  as  it  does  the  feelings  of  people  far  removed 
from  those  conditions  of  laborious  life  which  are  natural  to 
the  great  body  of  humanity.  That  which  is  enjoyment  to 
a  man  of  the  rich  classes,  is  incomprehensible,  as  a  pleasure, 
to  a  working  man,  and  evokes  in  him  either  no  feeling  at 
all,  or  only  a  feeling  quite  contrary  to  that  which  it  evokes 
in  an  idle  and  satiated  man.  Such  feelings  as  form  the 
chief  subjects  of  present-day  art — say,  for  instance,  honour,1 
patriotism  and  amorousness,  evoke  in  a  working  man  only 
bewilderment  and  contempt,  or  indignation.  So  that  even 
if  a  possibility  were  given  to  the  labouring  classes,  in  their 
free  time,  to  see,  to  read,  and  to  hear  all  that  forms  the 
nower  of  contemporary  art  (as  is  done  to  some  extent  in 
towns,  by  means  of  picture  galleries,  popular  concerts,  and 
libraries),  the  working  man  (to  the  extent  to  which  he  is  a 
labourer,  and  has  not  begun  to  pass  into  the  ranks  of  those 
perverted  by  idleness)  would  be  able  to  make  nothing  of  our 
fine  art,  and  if  he  did  understand  it,  that  which  he  under- 

1  Duelling  is  still  customary  among  the  higher  circles  in  Russia,  as 
in  other  Continental  countries.— Trans. 

72  WHAT  IS  ART? 

stood  would  not  elevate  his  soul,  but  would  certainly,  in 
most  cases,  pervert  it.     To  thoughtful  and  sincere  people 

I  there  can  therefore  be  no  doubt  that  the  art  of  our  upper 
classes  never  can  be  the  art  of  the  whole  people.  But  if  art 
is  an  important  matter,  a  spiritual  blessing,  essential  for 
\all  men  ("like  religion,"  as  the  devotees  of  art  are  fond  of 
paying),  then  it  should  be  accessible  to  everyone.  And  if,  as 
p  our  day,  it  is  not  accessible  to  all  men,  then  one  of  two 
things  :  either  art  is  not  the  vital  matter  it  is  represented 
to  be,  or  that  art  which  we  call  art  is  not  the  real  thing. 

The  dilemma  is  inevitable,  and  therefore  clever  and 
immoral  people  avoid  it  by  denying  one  side  of  it,  viz. 
denying  that  the  common  people  have  a  right  to  art.  These 
people  simply  and  boldly  speak  out  (what  lies  at  the  heart 
of  the  matter),  and  say  that  the  participators  in  and  utilisers 
of  what  in  their  esteem  is  highly  beautiful  art,  i.e.  art 
furnishing  the  greatest  enjoyment,  can  only  be  "schone 
Geister,"  "the  elect,"  as  the  romanticists  called  them,  the 
"  Uebermenschen,"  as  they  are  called  by  the  followers  of 
Nietzsche ;  the  remaining  vulgar  herd,  incapable  of  ex 
periencing  these  pleasures,  must  serve  the  exalted  pleasures 
of  this  superior  breed  of  people.  The  people  who  express 
these  views  at  least  do  not  pretend  and  do  not  try  to  com 
bine  the  incombinable,  but  frankly  admit,  what  is  the  case, 
that  our  art  is  an  art  of  the  upper  classes  only.  So, 
essentially,  art  has  been,  and  is,  understood  by  everyone 
engaged  on  it  in  our  society. 


THE  unbelief  of  the  upper  classes  of  the  European  world 
had  this  effect,  that  instead  of  an  artistic  activity  aiming  at 
transmitting  the  highest  feelings  to  which  humanity  has 
attained, — those  flowing  from  religious  perception, — we  have 
an  activity  which  aims  at  affording  the  greatest  enjoyment 
to  a  certain  class  of  society.  And  of  all  the  immense  domain  ' 
of  art,  that  part  has  been  fenced  off,  and  is  alone  called  art, 
which  affords  enjoyment  to  the  people  of  this  particular 

Apart  from  the  moral  effects  on  European  society  of  such 
a  selection  from  the  whole  sphere  of  art  of  what  did  not  de 
serve  such  a  valuation,  and  the  acknowledgment  of  it  as 
important  art,  this  perversion  of  art  has  weakened  art  itself, 
and  well-nigh  destroyed  it.  The  first  great  result  was  that 
art  was  deprived  of  the  infinite,  varied,  and  profound  religious 
subject-matter  proper  to  it.  The  second  result  was  that 
having  only  a  small  circle  of  people  in  view,  it  lost  its  beauty 
of  form  and  became  affected  and  obscure  ;  and  the  third  and 
chief  result  was  that  it  ceased  to  be  either  natural  or  even 
sincere,  and  became  thoroughly  artificial  and  brain-spun. 

The  first  result — the  impoverishment  of  subject-matter — 
followed  because  only  that  is  a  true  work  of  art  which  v 
transmits  fresh  feelings  not  before  experienced  by  man. 
As  thought-product  is  only  then  real  thought-product  when 
it  transmits  new  conceptions  and  thoughts,  and  does  not 
merely  repeat  what  was  known  before,  so  also  an  art- 
product  is  only  then  a  genuine  art-product  when  it  brings 

74  WHAT  IS  ART? 

u  new  feeling  (however  insignificant)  into  the  current  of 
human  life.  This  explains  why  children  and  youths  are 
so  strongly  impressed  by  those  works  of  art  which  first 
transmit  to  them  feelings  they  had  not  before  experienced. 

The  same  powerful  impression  is  made  on  people  by  feelings 
which  are  quite  new,  and  have  never  before  been  expressed 
by  man.  And  it  is  the  source  from  which  such  feelings 
iiow  of  which  the  art  of  the  upper  classes  has  deprived 
itself  by  estimating  feelings,  not  in  conformity  with  religious 
perception,  but  according  to  the  degree  of  enjoyment  they 
afford.  There  is  nothing  older  and  more  hackneyed  than 
enjoyment,  and  there  is  nothing  fresher  than  the  feelings 
springing  from  the  religious  consciousness  of  each  age.  It 
could  not  be  otherwise :  man's  enjoyment  has  limits  estab 
lished  by  his  nature,  but  the  movement  forward  of 
humanity,  that  which  is  voiced  by  religious  perception,  has 
no  limits.  At  every  forward  step  taken  by  humanity — 
and  such  steps  are  taken  in  consequence  of  the  greater  and 
greater  elucidation  of  religious  perception — men  experience 
new  and  fresh  feelings.  And  therefore  only  on  the  basis 
of  religious  perception  (which  shows  the  highest  level  of 
life-comprehension  reached  by  the  men  of  a  certain  period) 
can  fresh  emotion,  never  before  felt  by  man,  arise.  From 
kthe  religious  perception  of  the  ancient  Greeks  flowed  the 
really  new,  important,  and  endlessly  varied  feelings  ex 
pressed  by  Homer  and  the  tragic  writers.  It  was  the  same 
among  the  Jews,  who  attained  the  religious  conception  of  a 
single  God, — from  that  perception  flowed  all  those  new  and 
important  emotions  expressed  by  the  prophets.  It  was  the 
same  for  the  poets  of  the  Middle  Ages,  who,  if  they  believed 
in  a  heavenly  hierarchy,  believed  also  in  the  Catholic 
commune ;  and  it  is  the  same  for  a  man  of  to-day  who  has 
grasped  the  religious  conception  of  true  Christianity — the 
brotherhood  of  man. 

The    variety   of    fresh    feelings    flowing    from    religious 

WHAT  IS  ART 'f  75 

perception  is  endless,  and  they  are  all  new,  for  religious 
perception  is  nothing  else  than  the  first  indication  of  that 
"which  is  coming  into  existence,  viz.  the  new  relation  of 
man  to  the  world  around  him.  But  the  feelings  flowing 
from  the  desire  for  enjoyment  are,  on  the  contrary,  not 
only  limited,  but  were  long  ago  experienced  and  expressed. 
And  therefore  the  lack  of  belief  of  the  upper  classes  of 
Europe  has  left  them  with  an  art  fed  on  the  poorest 

The  impoverishment  of  the  subject-matter  of  upper-class 
art  was  further  increased  by  the  fact  that,  ceasing  to  be 
religious,  it  ceased  also  to  be  popular,  and  this  again 
diminished  the  range  of  feelings  which  it  transmitted.  For 
the  range  of  feelings  experienced  by  the  powerful  and  the 
rich,  who  have  no  experience  of  labour  for  the  support  of 
life,  is  far  poorer,  more  limited,  and  more  insignificant  than 
the  range  of  feelings  natural  to  working  people. 

People  of  our  circle,  sestheticians,  usually  think  and  say 
just  the  contrary  of  this.  I  remember  how  Gontchareff,  the 
author,  a  very  clever  and  educated  man  but  a  thorough  towns 
man  and  an  sesthetician,  said  to  me  that  after  Tourgenieff's 
Memoirs  of  a  Sportsman  there  was  nothing  left  to  write  about 
in  peasant  life.  It  was  all  used  up.  The  life  of  working 
people  seemed  to  him  so  simple  that  Tourgenieff's  peasant 
stories  had  used  up  all  there  was  to  describe.  The  life  of 
our  wealthy  people,  with  their  love  affairs  and  dissatisfac 
tion  with  themselves,  seemed  to  him  full  of  inexhaustible 
subject-matter.  One  hero  kissed  his  lady  on  her  palm, 
another  on  her  elbow,  and  a  third  somewhere  else.  One 
man  is  discontented  through  idleness,  and  another  because 
people  don't  love  him.  And  Gontchareff  thought  that  in 
this  sphere  there  is  no  end  of  variety.  And  this  opinion 
—that  the  life  of  working  people  is  poor  in  subject-matter, 
but  that  our  life,  the  life  of  the  idle,  is  full  of  interest- 
is  shared  by  very  many  people  in  our  society.  The  life  of 

76  WHAT  IS  ART? 

a  labouring  man,  with  its  endlessly  varied  forms  of  labour, 
and  the  dangers  connected  with  this  labour  on  sea  and 
underground;  his  migrations,  the  intercourse  with  his  em 
ployers,  overseers,  and  companions  and  with  men  of  other 
religions  and  other  nationalities ;  his  struggles  with  nature 
and  with  wild  beasts,  the  associations  with  domestic  animals, 
the  work  in  the  forest,  on  the  steppe,  in  the  field,  the  garden, 
the  orchard ;  his  intercourse  with  wif e  and  children,  not  only 
as  with  people  near  and  dear  to  him,  but  as  with  co-workers 
and  helpers  in  labour,  replacing  him  in  time  of  need ;  his 
concern  in  all  economic  questions,  not  as  matters  of  display 
or  discussion,  but  as  problems  of  life  for  himself  and  his 
family ;  his  pride  in  self-suppression  and  service  to  others, 
his  pleasures  of  refreshment;  and  with  all  these  interests 
permeated  by  a  religious  attitude  towards  these  occurrences — 
all  this  to  us,  who  have  not  these  interests  and  possess  no 
religious  perception,  seems  monotonous  in  comparison  with 
those  small  enjoyments  and  insignificant  cares  of  our  life, — 
a  life,  not  of  labour  nor  of  production,  but  of  consumption  and 
destruction  of  that  which  others  have  produced  for  us.  We 
think  the  feelings  experienced  by  people  of  our  day  and 
our  class  are  very  important  and  varied;  but  in  reality 
i,  almost  all  the  feelings  of  people  of  our  class  amount  to 
j|:!but  three  very  insignificant  and  simple  feelings — the  feeling 
jljbf  pride,  the  feeling  of  sexual  desire,  and  the  feeling  of 
[[{ (weariness  of  life.  These  three  feelings,  with  their  out- 
'growths,  form  almost  the  only  subject-matter  of  the  art  of 
the  rich  classes. 

At  first,  at  the  very  beginning  of  the  separation  of  the 
exclusive  art  of  the  upper  classes  from  universal  art,  its 
chief  subject-matter  was  the  feeling  of  pride.  It  was  so  at 
the  time  of  the  Renaissance  and  after  it,  when  the  chief 
subject  of  works  of  art  was  the  laudation  of  the  strong — 
popes,  kings,  and  dukes:  odes  and  madrigals  were  written  in 
their  honour,  and  they  were  extolled  in  cantatas  and  hymns ; 

WHAT  IS  ART?  77 

their  portraits  were  painted,  and  their  statues  carved,  in 
various  adulatory  ways.  Next,  the  element  of  sexual  desire 
began  more  and  more  to  enter  into  art,  and  (with  very  few 
exceptions,  and  in  novels  and  dramas  almost  without 
exception)  it  has  now  become  an  essential  feature  of  every 
art  product  of  the  rich  classes. 

The  third  feeling  transmitted  by  the  art  of  the  rich — that 
of  discontent  with  life— appeared  yet  later  in  modern  art. 
This  feeling,  which,  at  the  commencement  of  the  present 
century,  was  expressed  only  by  exceptional  men ;  by  Byron, 
by  Leopardi,  and  afterwards  by  Heine,  has  latterly  become 
fashionable  and  is  expressed  by  most  ordinary  and  empty 
people.  Most  justly  does  the  French  critic  Douinic 
characterise  the  works  of  the  new  writers — "  c'cst  la 
latitude  de  vivre,  le  mepris  de  Vepoque  presente,  le  regret 
(Tun  autre  temps  aper$u  a  tracers  ^illusion  de  J'art,  le 
f/otit  du  paradoxe,  le  besoin  de  se  singulariser,  une  aspira 
tion  de  rqffines  vers  la  simplicite,  V adoration  enfantine  du 
merveilleux,  la  seduction  maladivc  de  la  reverie ,  Tebranlement 
des  nerfs, — surtout  I'appel  exaspere  de  la  sensualite"  (Les 
Jeunes,  Keii6  Doumic).1  And,  as  a  matter  of  fact,  of  these 
three  feelings  it  is  sensuality,  the  lowest  (accessible  not 
only  to  all  men  but  even  to  all  animals)  which  forms  the 
chief  subject-matter  of  works  of  art  of  recent  times. 

From  Boccaccio  to  Marcel  Prevost,  all  the  novels,  poems, 
and  verses  invariably  transmit  the  feeling  of  sexual  love  in 
its  different  forms.  Adultery  is  not  only  the  favourite,  but 
almost  the  only  theme  of  all  the  novels.  A  performance  is 
not  a  performance  unless,  under  some  pretence,  women  appear 

1  It  is  the  weariness  of  life,  contempt  lor  the  present  epoch,  regret 
for  another  age  seen  through  the  illusion  of  art,  a  taste  for  paradox, 
a  desire  to  be  singular,  a  sentimental  aspiration  after  simplicity,  an 
infantine  adoration  of  the  marvellous,  a  sickly  tendency  towards 
reverie,  a  shattered  condition  of  nerves,  and,  above  all,  the  ex- 
aspen  ted  demand  of  sensuality. 

78  WHAT  IS  ART? 

with  naked  busts  and  limbs.  Songs  and  romances — all  are 
expressions  of  lust,  idealised  in  various  degrees. 

A  majority  of  the  pictures  by  French  artists  represent 
female  nakedness  in  various  forms.  In  recent  French 
literature  there  is  hardly  a  page  or  a  poem  in  which 
nakedness  is  not  described,  and  in  which,  relevantly  or 
irrelevantly,  their  favourite  thought  and  word  nu  is  not 
repeated  a  couple  of  times.  There  is  a  certain  writer,  Rene 
de  Gourmond,  who  gets  printed,  and  is  considered  talented. 
To  get  an  idea  of  the  new  writers,  I  read  his  novel,  Les 
Chevaux  de  Diomede.  It  is  a  consecutive  and  detailed 
account  of  the  sexual  connections  some  gentleman  had  with 
various  women.  Every  page  contains  lust-kindling  descrip 
tions.  It  is  the  same  in  Pierre  Louys'  book,  ^Aphrodite, 
which  met  with  success ;  it  is  the  same  in  a  book  I  lately 
chanced  upon — Huysmans'  Certains,  and,  with  but  few 
exceptions,  it  is  the  same  in  all  the  French  novels.  They 
are  all  the  productions  of  people  suffering  from  erotic 
mania.  And  these  people  are  evidently  convinced  that  as 
their  whole  life,  in  consequence  of  their  diseased  condition, 
is  concentrated  on  amplifying  various  sexual  abominations, 
therefore  the  life  of  all  the  world  is  similarly  concentrated. 
And  these  people,  suffering  from  erotic  mania,  are  imitated 
throughout  the  whole  artistic  world  of  Europe  and  America. 

Thus  in  consequence  of  the  lack  of  belief  and  the 
exceptional  manner  of  life  of  the  wealthy  classes,  the  art 
of  those  classes  became  impoverished  in  its  subject-matter, 
and  has  sunk  to  the  transmission  of  the  feelings  of  pride, 
discontent  with  life,  and,  above  all,  of  sexual  desire. 


IN  consequence  of  their  unbelief  the  art  of  the  upper  classes 
became  poor  in  subject-matter.  But  besides  that,  becoming 
continually  more  and  more  exclusive,  it  became  at  the 
same  time  continually  more  and  more  involved,  aifected,  and 

When  a  universal  artist  (such  as  were  some  of  the  Grecian 
artists  or  the  Jewish  prophets)  composed  his  work,  he  naturally 
strove  to  say  what  he  had  to  say  in  such  a  manner  that  his 
production  should  be  intelligible  to  all  men.  But  when  an 
artist  composed  for  a  small  circle  of  people  placed  in  excep 
tional  conditions,  or  even  for  a  single  individual  and  his 
courtiers, — for  popes,  cardinals,  kings,  dukes,  queens,  or  for  a 
king's  mistress, — he  naturally  only  aimed  at  influencing  these 
people,  who  were  well  known  to  him,  and  lived  in  excep 
tional  conditions  familiar  to  him.  And  this  was  an  easier 
task,  and  the  artist  Avas  involuntarily  drawn  to  express 
himself  by  allusions  comprehensible  only  to  the  initiated, 
and  obscure  to  everyone  else.  In  the  first  place,  more  could 
be  said  in  this  way  ;  and  secondly,  there  is  (for  the  initiated) 
even  a  certain  charm  in  the  cloudiness  of  such  a  manner  of 
expression.  This  method,  which  showed  itself  both  in 
euphemism  and  in  mythological  and  historical  allusions, 
came  more  and  more  into  use,  until  it  has,  apparently,  at 
last  reached  its  utmost  limits  in  the  so-called  art  of  the 
Decadents.  It  has  come,  finally,  to  this  :  that  not  only  is 
haziness,  mysteriousness,  obscurity,  and  exclusiveness  (shut 
ting  out  the  masses)  elevated  to  the  rank  of  a  merit  and  a 



condition  of  poetic  art,  but  even  incorrectness,  indefiniteness, 
and  lack  of  eloquence  are  held  in  esteem. 

Theophile  Gautier,  in  his  preface  to  the  celebrated  Fleurs 
flu  Mai,  says  that  Baudelaire,  as  far  as  possible,  banished 
from  poetry  eloquence,  passion,  and  truth  too  strictly 
copied  ("V eloquence,  la  passion,  et  la  vcrite  calquee  trop 
exactement "). 

And  Baudelaire  not  only  expressed  this,  but  maintained 
his  thesis  in  his  verses,  and  yet  more  strikingly  in  the  prose 
of  his  Petits  Poemes  en  Prose,  the  meanings  of  which  have 
to  be  guessed  like  a  rebus,  and  remain  for  the  most  part 

The  poet  Verlaino  (who  followed  next  after  Baudelaire, 
and  was  also  esteemed  great)  even  wrote  an  "Art  poetique" 
in  which  he  advises  this  style  of  composition  : — 

De  la  musique  arant  toute  chose, 
Et  pour  cela  -pre fire  V  Impair 
Plus  vague  et  plus  soluble  dans  I' air, 
Sans  rien  en  hii  qui  pese  ou  qui  pose. 

11  faut  aussi  que  tu  n'ailles  point 
»        Choisir  tes  mots  sans  quelque  meprise : 
Rien  de  plus  clier  que  la  chanson  grise 
Oil  T  Indecis  au  Precis  se  joint. 

And  again : — 

De  la  musique  encore  et  toujours  ! 
Que  ton  vers  soit  la  chose  envolee 
Qu'on  sent  qui  fuit  d'une  dme  en  allee 
Vers  d'autres  deux  a  d'autres  amours. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  81 

Que  ton  vers  soit  la  bonne  aventure 
Eparse  au  vent  crispe  du  mati?i, 
Qui  va  fleurant  la  menthe  el  le  thym  ,   ,  . 
Et  tout  le  reste  est  litterature.1 

After  these  two  comes  Mallarme,  considered  the  most 
important  of  the  young  poets,  and  he  plainly  says  that  the 
charm  of  poetry  lies  in  our  having  to  guess  its  meaning — 
that  in  poetry  there  should  always  be  a  puzzle : — 

Je  pense  qu'il  faut  qu'il  n'y  ait  qu'allusion,  says  he. 
La  contemplation  des  oly'ets,  I'image  s'envolant  des  reveries 
suscitees  par  eux,  sont  le  chant :  les  Parnassiens,  eux, 
prennent  la  chose  entierement  et  la  montrent ;  par  la  Us 
manquent  de  mystere ;  Us  retirent  aux  esprits  cette  joie 
ddlicieuse  de  croire  qu'ils  crcent.  Nommcr  un  cibjet,  c'est 
supprimer  les  trois  quarts  de  lajouissance  dupoeme,  qui 
est  fait e  du  bonheur  de  deviner  pen  a  peu:  le  suggerer, 

1  Music,  music  before  all  things 
The  eccentric  still  prefer, 
Vague  in  air,  and  nothing  weighty, 
Soluble.      Yet  do  not  err, 

Choosing  words  ;  still  do  it  lightly, 
Do  it  too  with  some  contempt ; 
Dearest  is  the  song  that's  tipsy, 
Clearness,  dimness  not  exempt. 

Music  always,  now  and  ever 
Be  thy  verse  the  thing  that  flies 
From  a  soul  that's  gone,  escaping, 
Gone  to  other  loves  and  skies. 

Gone  to  other  loves  and  regions, 
Following  fortunes  that  allure, 
Mint  and  thyme  and  morning  crispness 
All  the  rest's  mere  literature. 

82  WHAT  IS  ART? 

voila  le  rdve.  C'est  le  parfait  usage  de  ce  mystere  qui 
constitue  le  symbole :  evoquer  petit  a  petit  un  objet  pour 
montrer  un  etat  d'dme,  ou,  inversement,  choisir  un  objet  et 
en  ddgager  un  etat  d'dme,  par  une  serie  de  dlchiffrements. 

.  .  .  Si  un  etre  d'une  intelligence  moyenne,  et  d'une 
preparation  litteraire  insuffisante,  ouvre  par  hasard  un  livre 
ainsi  fait  et  pretend  en  jouir,  il  y  a  malentendu,  il  faut 
remettre  les  choses  a  leur  place.  II  doit  y  avoir  toujours 
tfnigme  en  poesie,  et  c'est  le  but  de  la  literature,  il  n'y  en 
a  pas  d'autre, — d" evoquer  les  objets. — "Enquete  sur  I' evolution 
litteraire,"  Jules  Huret,  pp.  60,  61.1 

Thus  is  obscurity  elevated  into  a  dogma  among  the  new 
poets.  As  the  French  critic  Doumic  (who  has  not  yet 
accepted  the  dogma)  quite  correctly  says  : — 

11 11  serait  temps  aussi  d'enfinir  avec  cettefameuse  ltheorie 
de  I'obscurite'  que  la  nouvelle  ecole  a  elevee,  en  effet,  d  la 
hauteur  d'un  dogme." — Les  Jeunes,  par  Ren6  Doumic.2 

But  it  is  not  French  writers  only  who  think  thus.     The 

1  I  think  there  should  be  nothing  but  allusions.     The  contemplation 
of  objects,  the  flying  image  of  reveries  evoked  by  them,  are  the  song. 
The  Parnassians  state  the  thing  completely,  and  show  it,  and  thereby 
lack  mystery  ;  they  deprive  the  mind  of  that  delicious  joy  of  imagining 
that  it  creates.     To  name  an  object  is  to  take  three-quarters  from  the 
enjoyment  of  the  poem,  which  consists  in  the  happiness  of  guessing  little 
by  little :  to  suggest,  that  is  the  dream.     It  is  the  perfect  use  of  this 
mystery  that  constitutes  the  symbol :   little  by  little,  to  evoke  an 
object  in  order  to  show  a  state  of  the  soul ;  or  inversely,  to  choose  an 
object,  and  from  it  to  disengage  a  state  of  the  soul  by  a  series  of 

...  If  a  being  of  mediocre  intelligence  and  insufficient  literary 
preparation  chance  to  open  a  book  made  in  this  way  and  pretends  to 
enjoy  it,  there  is  a  misunderstanding — things  must  be  returned  to 
their  places.  There  should  always  be  an  enigma  in  poetry,  and  the 
aim  of  literature — it  has  no  other — is  to  evoke  objects. 

2  It   were   time  also   to  have  done  with   this  famous    "theory  of 
obscurity,"  which  the  new  school  have  practically  raised  to  the  height 
of  a  dogma. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  83 

poets  of  all  other  countries  think  and  act  in  the  same  way : 
German,  and  Scandinavian,  and  Italian,  and  Russian,  and 
English.  So  also  do  the  artists  of  the  new  period  in  all 
branches  of  art :  in  painting,  in  sculpture,  and  in  music. 
Relying  on  Nietzsche  and  Wagner,  the  artists  of  the  new 
age  conclude  that  it  is  unnecessary  for  them  to  be  intelli 
gible  to  the  vulgar  crowd ;  it  is  enough  for  them  to  evoke 
poetic  emotion  in  "the  finest  nurtured,"  to  borrow  a  phrase 
from  an  English  aesthetician. 

In  order  that  what  I  am  saying  may  not  seem  to  be 
mere  assertion,  I  will  quote  at  least  a  few  examples  from 
the  French  poets  who  have  led  this  movement.  The  name 
of  these  poets  is  legion.  I  have  taken  French  writers, 
because  they,  more  decidedly  than  any  others,  indicate  the 
new  direction  of  art,  and  are  imitated  by  most  European 

Besides  those  whose  names  are  already  considered  famous, 
such  as  Baudelaire  and  Yerlaine,  here  are  the  names  of  a 
few  of  them :  Jean  Moreas,  Charles  Morice,  Henri  de 
Regnier,  Charles  Vignier,  Adrien  Remade,  Rene  Ghil, 
Maurice  Maeterlinck,  G.  Albert  Aurier,  Eemy  de  Gour- 
mont,  Saint-Pol-Roux-le-Magnifique,  Georges  Rodenbach, 
le  comte  Robert  de  Montesquiou-Fezensac.  These  are 
Symbolists  and  Decadents.  Next  we  have  the  "Magi": 
Josephin  Peladan,  Paul  Adam,  Jules  Bois,  M.  Papus, 
and  others. 

Besides  these,  there  are  yet  one  hundred  and  forty-one 
others,  whom  Dournic  mentions  in  the  book  referred  to 

Here  are  some  examples  from  the  work  of  those  of 
them  who  are  considered  to  be  the  best,  beginning  with 
that  most  celebrated  man,  acknowledged  to  be  a  great 
artist  worthy  of  a  monument — Baudelaire.  This  is  a 
poem  from  his  celebrated  Fleurs  du  Mai : — 

84  WHAT  IS  ART? 

No.  XXIV. 

Je  t 'adore  a  Tcgal  de  la  voute  nocturne, 

0  vase  de  tristesse,  6  grande  taciturne, 

Et  t'aime  d'autant  plus,  belle,  que  tu  me  fuis, 

Et  que  tu  me  parais,  ornement  de  mes  nuits, 

Plus  ironiquement  accumuler  les  lieues 

Qui  separent  mes  bras  des  immensites  bleues. 

Je  m'avance  a  Vattaque,  et  je  yrimpe  aux  assauts, 
Comme  apres  un  cadavre  un  choeur  de  vermisseaux, 
Et  je  cheris,  o  b<'te  implacable  et  cruelle, 
Jusqu'a  cette  froideur  par  ou  tu  m'es  plus  belle  !  l 

And  this  is  another  by  the  same  writer  : — 

No.    XXX  VI. 


Deux  guerriers  ont  couru  Vun  sur  Vautre ;  leurs  armes 
Out  eclabousse  I'air  de  lueurs  et  de  sang. 
<~!es  jeux,  ces  cliquetis  du  fer  sont  les  vacarmes 
Uune  jeunesse  en  proie  a  V amour  vagissant. 

Les  glaives  sont  brises  !  comme  noire  jeunesse, 
Ma  chere  !     Mais  les  dents,  les  angles  aceres, 
Vengent  bientot  I'epee  et  la  dague  traitresse. 
O  fureur  des  cceurs  murs  par  I* amour  ulcer es  / 

Dans  le  ravin  Jiante  des  chats-pards  et  des  onces 
Nos  heros,  s'etreig?iant  mecliamment,  ont  roule, 
Et  leur  peau  fleurira  Varidite  des  ronces. 

1  For  translation,  see  Appendix  IV. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  85 

Ce  go  tiff  re,  c'est  1'enfer,  de  nos  amis  peuple! 
Roulons-y  sans  remords,  amazone  inliumaine, 
A  fin  d'eterniser  Tar  dew  de  uotre  liaine  !  l 

To  be  exact,  I  should  mention  that  the  collection  contains 
verses  less  comprehensible  than  these,  but  not  one  poem 
which  is  plain  and  can  be  understood  without  a  certain 
effort — an  effort  seldom  rewarded,  for  the  feelings  which 
the  poet  transmits  are  evil  and  very  low  ones.  And  these 
feelings  are  always,  and  purposely,  expressed  by  him  with 
eccentricity  and  lack  of  clearness.  This  premeditated  obscu 
rity  is  especially  noticeable  in  his  prose,  where  the  author 
could,  if  he  liked,  speak  plainly. 

Take,  for  instance,  the  first  piece  from  his  Petits 
Poemes : — 


Qui  aimes-tu  le  mieux,  liomme  enigmatique,  dis?  ton  per e, 
ta  mere,  ta  soeur,  ou  ton  fr ere  ? 

Je  n'ai  ni  pere,,  ni  soeur,  nifrere. 

Tes  amis  ? 

Vous  vous  servez  la  d'une  parole  dont  le  sens  iriest  reste 
jusyu'  a  ce  jour  inconnu. 

Ta  patrie  ? 

J 'ignore  sous  quelle  latitude  elle  est  situee. 

La  leaute  ? 

Je  I'aiinerais  volontiers,  deesse  et  immortelle, 

L'or  ? 

Je  le  hais  comme  vous  lia'issez  Dieu. 

Et  qu  'aimes-tu  done,  extraordinaire  Stranger  ? 

J'aime  lex  nuayes  .  .  .  les  nuages  qui  passent  .  .  .  Id 
bas,  .  .  .  les  merveilleux  nuages  ! l 

The  piece  called  La   Soupe    et    les    Nuages    is    probably 
]  For  translation,  see  Appendix  IV. 

86  WHAT  IS  ART? 

intended  to  express  the  unintelligibility  of  the  poet  even  to 
her  whom  he  loves.     This  is  the  piece  in  question : — 

Ma  petite  folle  bien-aimee  me  donnait  a  diner,  et  par  la 
f entire  ouverte  de  la  salle  a  manger  je  contemplais  les 
mouvantes  architectures  que  Dieu  fait  avec  les  vapeurs,  les 
merveilleuses  constructions  de  ^impalpable.  Et  je  me  disais, 
a  tr avers  ma  contemplation :  "  Toutes  ces  fantasmagories 
sont  presque  aussi  belles  que  les  yeux  de  ma  belle  bien-aimee, 
la  petite  folle  monstrueuse  aux  yeux  verts." 

Et  tout  a  coup  je  recus  un  violent  coup  de  poing  dans  le 
dos,  et  fentendis  une  voix  rauque  et  cliarmante,  une  voix 
hysterique  et  comme  enrouee  par  I' eau-de-vie,  la  voix  de  ma 
chere  petite  bien-aimee,  qui  me  disait,  "  Allez-vous  bientot 
manger  votre  soupe,  s  ....  b  ....  de  marchand  de 
nuages  ?"1 

However  artificial  these  two  pieces  may  be,  it  is  still 
possible,  with  some  effort,  to  guess  at  what  the  author 
meant  them  to  express,  but  some  of  the  pieces  are  absolutely 
incomprehensible — at  least  to  me.  Le  Galant  Tireur  is  a 
piece  I  was  quite  unable  to  understand. 


Comme  la  voiture  traversait  le  bois,  il  la  fit  arreter  dans 
le  voisinage  d'un  tir,  disant  qu'il  lui  serait  agrcable  de  tirer 
quelques  balles  pour  tuer  le  Temps.  Tuer  ce  monstre-ld, 
n'est-cepas  ^occupation  la  plus  ordinaire  et  la  plus  legitime 
de  chacun  ? — Et  il  offrit  galamment  la  main  a  sa  chere, 
delicieuse  et  execrable  femme,  d  cette  mysterieuse  femme  a 
laquelle  il  doit  tant  de  plaisirs,  tant  de  douleurs,  et  peut-etre 
aussi  une  grande  partie  de  son  genie. 

1  For  translation,  see  Appendix  IV. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  87 

Plusieurs  balles  frapperent  loin  du  but  propose,  I'une 
d'elles  s'enfonpa  meme  dans  le  plafond ;  et  comme  la  char- 
mante  creature  riait  follement,  se  moquant  de  la  maladresse 
de  son  epoux,  celui-ci  se  tourna  brusquement  vers  elle,  et  lui 
dit :  "  Observez  cette  poupee,  la-bas,  a  droite,  qui  porte  le  nez 
en  fair  et  qui  a  la  mine  si  Jiautaine.  Eh  bien  !  cher  ange, 
je  me  figure  que  c'est  vous."  Et  il  ferma  les  yeux  et  il  Idcha 
la  detente.  La  poupee  fut  nettement  decapitee. 

Alors  s'  indinant  vers  sa  chere,  sa  delicieuse,  son  execrable 
femme,  son  inevitable  et  impitoyable  Muse,  et  lui  baisant 
respectueusement  la  main,  il  ajouta :  "  Ah  !  mon  cher  ange, 
combienje  vous  remercie  de  mon  adresse  !  "  l 

The  productions  of  another  celebrity,  Verlaine,  are  not 
less  affected  and  unintelligible.  This,  for  instance,  is  the 
first  poem  in  the  section  called  Ariettes  Oubliees. 

"  Le  vent  dans  la  plaine 

Suspend  son  hat  cine." — FAVART. 

C'est  I'extase  langoureuse, 
C'est  la  fatigue  amoureuse, 
C'est  tous  les  frissons  des  bois 
Parmi  I'etreinte  des  brises, 
C'est,  vers  les  ramures  grimes, 
Le  chcvur  des  petit es  voix. 

0  le  frcle  et  frais  murmure  ! 
Cela  gazouille  et  ttusurre, 
Cela  ressemble  au  cri  doux 
Que  I'herbe  agitee  expire  .   .  . 
Tu  dirais,  sous  Veau  qui  vire, 
Le  roulis  sourd  des  cailloux. 

1  For  translation,  see  Appendix  IV. 

88  WHAT  IS  ART? 

Cette  dme  qui  se  lamente 
En  cette  plainte  dormante 
C'est  la  notre,  riest-ce  pas  ? 
La  mienne,  dis,  et  la  tienne, 
Dont  s'exhale  Vhumble  antienne 
Pur  ce  tiede  soir,  tout  bas  ? 1 

What  "chceur  des  petites  voix'>ft  and  what  " cri  doiux 
que  rherbe  agitee  expire  "  1  and  what  it  all  means,  remains 
altogether  unintelligible  to  me. 

And  here  is  another  Ariette  : — 


Dans  V interminable 
Ennui  de  la  plaine, 
La  neige  incertaine 
Luit  comme  du  sable. 

Le  del  est  de  cuivre, 
Sans  lueur  aucune. 
On  croirait  voir  vivre 
Et  mourir  la  lune. 

Comme  des  nuees 
Flottent  gris  les  clienes 
Des  forets  procnaines 
Parmi  les  buees. 

Le  del  est  de  cuivre, 
Sans  lueur  aucune. 
On  croirait  voir  vivre 
Et  mourir  la  lune. 

For  translation,  see  Appendix  IV 

WHAT  IS  ART?  89 

Corneille  poussive 
Et  vous,  les  loups  maigres, 
Par  ces  bises  aigres 
Quoi  done  vous  arrive  ? 

Dans  V interminable 
Ennui  de  la  plaine, 
La  neige  incertaine 
Luit  comme  du  sable.1 

How  does  the  moon  seem  to  live  and  die  in  a  copper 
heaven "?  And  how  can  snow  shine  like  sand  1  The  whole 
thing  is  not  merely  unintelligible,  but,  under  pretence  of 
conveying  an  impression,  it  passes  off  a  string  of  incorrect 
comparisons  and  words. 

Besides  these  artificial  and  obscure  poems,  there  are 
others  which  are  intelligible,  but  which  make  up  for  it  by 
being  altogether  bad,  both  in  form  and  in  subject.  Such 
arc  all  the  poems  under  the  heading  La  Sagesse.  The  chief 
place  in  these  verses  is  occupied  by  a  very  poor  expression  of 
the  most  commonplace  Roman  Catholic  and  patriotic  senti 
ments.  For  instance,  one  meets  with  verses  such  as  this  : — 

Je  ne  veux  plus  penser  qu'  a  ma  mere  Mane, 
Siege  de  la  sagesse  et  source  de  pardons, 
Mere  de  France  aussi  de  qui  nous  attentions 
Intibranlablement  I'honneur  de  la  patrie.'2 

Before  citing  examples  from  other  poets,  T  must  pause  to 

1  For  translation,  see  Appendix  I V. 

2  I   do  not  wish  to  think  any  more,    except  about   my  mother 


Seat  of  wisdom  and  source  of  pardon, 
Also  Mother  of  France,  from  ivliom  ice 
Steadfastly  expect  the  honour  of  our  country. 

90  WHAT  IS  ART? 

note  the  amazing  celebrity  of  these  two  versifiers,  Baudelaire 
and  Verlaine,  who  are  now  accepted  as  being  great  poets. 
How  the  French,  who  had  Ch6nier,  Musset,  Lamartine,  and, 
above  all,  Hugo,  —  and  among  whom  quite  recently  flourished 
the  so-called  Parnassiens:  Leconte  de  Lisle,  Sully-Prud- 
homme,  etc.,  —  could  attribute  such  importance  to  these  two 
versifiers,  who  were  far  from  skilful  in  form  and  most  con 
temptible  and  commonplace  in  subject-matter,  is  to  me  incom 
prehensible.  The  conception-of-lif  e  of  one  of  them,  Baudelaire, 
consisted  in  elevating  gross  egotism  into  a  theory,  and 
replacing  morality  by  a  cloudy  conception  of  beauty,  and 
especially  artificial  beauty.  Baudelaire  had  a  preference, 
which  he  expressed,  for  a  woman's  face  painted  rather  than 
showing  its  natural  colour,  and  for  metal  trees  and  a 
theatrical  imitation  of  water  rather  than  real  trees  and 
real  water. 

The  life-conception  of  the  other,  Yerlaine,  consisted  in 
weak  profligacy,  confession  of  his  moral  impotence,  and, 
as  an  antidote  to  that  impotence,  in  the  grossest  Roman 
Catholic  idolatry.  Both,  moreover,  were  quite  lacking  in 
naivete,  sincerity,  and  simplicity,  and  both  overflowed  with 
artificiality,  forced  originality,  and  self-assurance.  So  that 
in  their  least  bad  productions  one  sees  more  of  M.  Baude 
laire  or  M.  Yerlaine  than  of  what  they  were  describing. 
But  these  two  indifferent  versifiers  form  a  school,  and  lead 
hundreds  of  followers  after  them. 

There  is  only  one  explanation  of  this  fact  :  it  is  that  the 
art  of  the  society  in  which  these  versifiers  lived  is  not  a 
serious,  important  matter  of  life,  but  is  a  mere 

And  all  amusements  grow  wearisome  by  repetition4. 
in  order  to  make  wearisome  amusement  again  tolerable,  it 
is  necessary  to  find  some  means  to  freshen  it  up.  When, 
at  cards,  ombre  grows  stale,  whist  is  introduced  ;  when  whist 
grows  stale,  ecarte  is  substituted  ;  when  ecart6  grows  stale, 
some  other  novelty  is  invented,  and  so  on.  The  substance 

WHAT  IS  ART?  91 

of  the  matter  remains  the  same,  only  its  form  is  changed. 
And  so  it  is  with  this  kind  of  art.  The  subject-matter  of  the 
art  of  the  upper  classes  growing  continually  more  and  more 
limited,  it  has  come  at  last  to  this,  that  to  the  artists  of  these 
exclusive  classes  it  seems  as  if  everything  has  already  been 
said,  and  that  to  find  anything  new  to  say  is  impossible. 
And  therefore,  to  freshen  up  this  art,  they  look  out  for 
fresh  forms. 

Baudelaire  and  Verlaine  invent  such  a  new  form,  furbish 
it  up,  moreover,  with  hitherto  unused  pornographic  details, 
and — the  critics  and  the  public  of  the  upper  classes  hail 
them  as  great  writers. 

This  is  the  only  explanation  of  the  success,  not  of 
Baudelaire  and  Verlaine  only,  but  of  all  the  Decadents. 

For  instance,  there  are  poems  by  Mallarme  and  Maeterlinck 
which  have  no  meaning,  and  yet  for  all  that,  or  perhaps  on 
that  very  account,  are  printed  by  tens  of  thousands,  not 
only  in  various  publications,  but  even  in  collections  of  the 
best  works  of  the  younger  poets. 

Tliis,  for  example,  is  a  sonnet  by  Mallarme  : — 

A  la  nue  accablante  tu 
Basse  de  basalte  et  de  laves 
A  meme  les  eclws  esclaves 
Par  une  trompe  sans  vertu. 

Quel  scpulcral  naufrage  (tu 
Le  soir,  ecume,  mais  y  laves) 
Supreme  une  entre  les  tpaves 
Abolit  le  mat  devetu. 

Ou  cela  gue  furibond  faute 
De  quelque  perdition  haute 
Tout  I'abime  vain  eploye 

92  WHAT  IS  ART  ? 

Dans  le  si  blanc  clieveu  qui  trame 

Avarement  aura  noye 

Le  flanc  enfant  d'une  sirene.1 

("Pan,"  1895,  No.  1.) 

Tliis  poem  is  not  exceptional  in  its  incomprehensibility. 
I  have  read  several  poems  by  Mallarme,  and  they  also  had 
no  meaning  whatever.  I  give  a  sample  of  his  prose  in 
Appendix  I.  There  is  a  whole  volume  of  this  prose,  called 
"Divagations."  It  is  impossible  to  understand  any  of  it. 
And  that  is  evidently  what  the  author  intended. 

And  here  is  a  song  by  Maeterlinck,  another  celebrated 
author  of  to-day: — 

Quand  il  est  sorfi, 
(J'entendis  la  porte) 
Quand  il  est  sorti 
Elle  avait  souri  .  .  . 

Mais  quand  il  entra 
(J'entendis  la  lampe] 
Mais  quand  il  entra 
Une  autre  etait  la  .  .  . 

Et  fai  vu  la  mort, 
(J'entendis  wn  dme) 
Et  fai  vu  la  mu,"t 
Qui  Vattend  encore  .  .  . 

On  est  venu  dire, 
(Mon  enfant  fai  peur) 
On  est  venu  dire 
Qu'il  allait  partir  .  .  . 

1  This  sonnet  seems  too  unintelligible  for  translation. — Trans. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  93 

Ma  lampe  alluniee, 
(Mori  enfant  fai  peur) 
Ma  lampe  allumee 
Me  suis  approchee  .  .  . 

A  la  premiere  porte, 
(Mon  enfant  fai  peur) 
A   la  premiere  porte, 
La  flamme  a  tremble  .  .  . 

A  la  seconde  porte, 
(Mon  enfant  fai  peur} 
A  la  seconde  porte, 
La  flamme  a  parle  .  .  . 

A   la  troisi'eme  porte, 
(Mon  enfant  fai  peur) 
A  la  troisieme  porte, 
La  lumiere  est  morte  .  .  . 

Et  s'il  revenait  un  jour 
Que  faut-il  lui  dire  ? 
Dites-lui  qu'on  Tattendit 
Jusqu'a  sjen  mourir  .  .   . 

Et  s'il  demande  ou  vous  etes 
Que  faut-il  rcpondre  ? 
Donnez-lui  mon  anneau  d'or 
Sans  rien  lui  repondre  .  .  . 

Et  s'il  m'interroge  alors 
Sur  la  dernikre  heure  ? 
Dites  lui  que  fai  souri 
De  peur  qu'il  ne  pleure  .  .  . 

94  WHAT  IS  ART? 

Et  s'il  m'interroge  encore 
Sans  me  reconnaitre  ? 
Parlez-lui  comme  une  soeur, 
II  souffre  peut-etre  .   .  . 

Et  s'il  veut  savoir  pourquoi 
La  salle  est  deserte  ? 
Montrez  lui  la  lampe  t'teinte 
Et  la  porte  ouverte  .  .  -1 

("Pan,"  1895,  No.  2.) 

Who  went  out  ?  Who  came  in  ?  Who  is  speaking  ?  Who 

I  beg  the  reader  to  be  at  the  pains  of  reading  through 
the  samples  I  cite  in  Appendix  II.  of  the  celebrated  and 
esteemed  young  poets — Griffin,  Verhaeren,  More"as,  and 
Montesquieu.  It  is  important  to  do  so  in  order  to  form  a 
clear  conception  of  the  present  position  of  art,  and  not  to 
suppose,  as  many  do,  that  Decadentism  is  an  accidental  and 
transitory  phenomenon.  To  avoid  the  reproach  of  having 
selected  the  worst  verses,  I  have  copied  out  of  each  volume 
the  poem  which  happened  to  stand  on  page  28. 

All  the  other  productions  of  these  poets  are  equally  un 
intelligible,  or  can  only  be  understood  with  great  difficulty, 
and  then  not  fully.  All  the  productions  of  those  hundreds 
of  poets,  of  whom  I  have  named  a  few,  are  the  same  in  kind. 
And  among  the  Germans,  Swedes,  Norwegians,  Italians,  and 
us  Russians,  similar  verses  are  printed.  And  such  produc 
tions  are  printed  and  made  up  into  book  form,  if  not  by  the 
million,  then  by  the  hundred  thousand  (some  of  these  works 
sell  in  tens  of  thousands).  For  type-setting,  paging,  printing, 
and  binding  these  books,  millions  and  millions  of  working 
days  are  spent — not  less,  I  think,  than  went  to  build  the 
1  For  translation,  see  Appendix  IV. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  95 

great  pyramid.  And  this  is  not  all.  The  same  is  going  on 
in  all  the  other  arts :  millions  and  millions  of  working 
days  are  being  spent  on  the  production  of  equally 
incomprehensible  works  in  painting,  in  music,  and  in  the 

Painting  not  only  does  not  lag  behind  poetry  in  this 
matter,  but  rather  outstrips  it.  Here  is  an  extract  from 
the  diary  of  an  amateur  of  art,  written  when  visiting  the 
Paris  exhibitions  in  1894  : — 

"  I  was  to-day  at  three  exhibitions  :  the  Symbolists',  the 
Impressionists',  and  the  Neo-Impressionists'.  I  looked  at 
the  pictures  conscientiously  and  carefully,  but  again  felt  the 
same  stupefaction  and  ultimate  indignation.  The  first 
exhibition,  that  of  Camille  Pissarro,  was  comparatively  the 
most  comprehensible,  though  the  pictures  were  out  of 
drawing,  had  no  subject,  and  the  colourings  were  most 
improbable.  The  drawing  was  so  indefinite  that  you  were 
sometimes  unable  to  make  out  which  way  an  arm  or  a  head 
was  turned.  The  subject  was  generally,  '  effets ' — Effet  de 
brouillard,  Effet  du  soir,  Soleil  coucliant.  There  were  some 
pictures  with  figures,  but  without  subjects. 

"  In  the  colouring,  bright  blue  and  bright  green  predomi 
nated.  And  each  picture  had  its  special  colour,  with  which 
the  whole  picture  was,  as  it  were,  splashed.  For  instance  in 
'  A  Girl  guarding  Geese  '  the  special  colour  is  vert  de  gris,  and 
dots  of  it  were  splashed  about  everywhere :  on  the  face, 
the  hair,  the  hands,  and  the  clothes.  In  the  same  gallery— 
'  Durand  Ruel ' — were  other  pictures,  by  Puvis  de  Chavannes, 
Manet,  Monet,  Renoir,  Sisley — who  are  all  Impressionists. 
One  of  them,  whose  name  I  could  not  make  out, — it  was 
something  like  Redon, — had  painted  a  blue  face  in  profile. 
On  the  whole  face  there  is  only  this  blue  tone,  with  white- 
of-lead.  Pissarro  has  a  water-colour  all  done  in  dots.  In  the 
foreground  is  a  cow  entirely  painted  with  various-coloured 
dots.  The  general  colour  cannot  be  distinguished,  however 

96  WHAT  IS  ART? 

much  one  stands  back  from,  or  draws  near  to,  the  picture. 
From  there  I  went  to  see  the  Symbolists.  I  looked  at  them 
long  without  asking  anyone  for  an  explanation,  trying  to 
guess  the  meaning  ;  but  it  is  beyond  human  comprehension. 
One  of  the  first  things  to  catch  my  eye  was  a  wooden  liaut- 
reUef,  wretchedly  executed,  representing  a  woman  (naked) 
who  with  both  hands  is  squeezing  from  her  two  breasts 
streams  of  blood.  The  blood  flows  down,  becoming  lilac  in 
colour.  Her  hair  first  descends  and  then  rises  again  and 
turns  into  trees.  The  figure  is  all  coloured  yellow,  and  the 
hair  is  brown. 

"Next — a  picture  :  a  yellow  sea,  on  which  swims  something 
which  is  neither  a  ship  nor  a  heart;  on  the  horizon  is  a 
profile  with  a  halo  and  yellow  hair,  which  changes  into  a  sea, 
in  which  it  is  lost.  Some  of  the  painters  lay  on  their 
colours  so  thickly  that  the  effect  is  something  between 
painting  and  sculpture.  A  third  exhibit  was  even  less 
comprehensible  :  a  man's  profile  ;  before  him  a  flame  and 
black  stripes — leeches,  as  I  was  afterwards  told.  At  last  I 
asked  a  gentleman  who  was  there  what  it  meant,  and  he 
explained  to  me  that  the  liaut-relief  was  a  symbol,  and  that 
it  represented  'La  Terre.'  The  heart  swimming  in  a  yellow 
sea  was  '  Illusion  perdue,'  and  the  gentleman  with  the  leeches 
was  '  Le  Mai.'  There  were  also  some  Impressionist  pictures  : 
elementary  profiles,  holding  some  sort  of  flowers  in  their 
hands  :  in  monotone,  out  of  drawing,  and  either  quite  blurred 
or  else  marked  out  with  wide  black  outlines." 

This  was  in  1894;  the  same  tendency  is  now  even  more 
strongly  defined,  and  we  have  Bocklin,  Stuck,  Klinger, 
Sasha  Schneider,  and  others. 

The  same  thing  is  taking  place  in  the  drama.  The  play- 
writers  give  us  an  architect  who,  for  some  reason,  has  not 
'fulfilled  his  former  high  intentions,  and  who  consequently 
climbs  on  to  the  roof  of  a  house  he  has  erected  and  tumbles 
down  head  foremost;  or  an  incomprehensible  old  woman 

WHA T  IS  ART?  97 

(who  exterminates  rats),  and  who,  for  an  unintelligible 
reason,  takes  a  poetic  child  to  the  sea  and  there  drowns 
him;  or  some  blind  men,  who,  sitting  on  the  seashore,  for 
some  reason  always  repeat  one  and  the  same  thing ;  or  a  bell 
of  some  kind,  which  flies  into  a  lake  and  there  rings. 

And  the  same  is  happening  in  music — in  that  art  which, 
more  than  any  other,  one  would  have  thought,  should  be 
intelligible  to  everybody. 

An  acquaintance  of  yours,  a  musician  of  repute,  sits  down 
to  the  piano  and  plays  you  what  he  says  is  a  new  com 
position  of  his  own,  or  of  one  of  the  new  composers.  You 
hear  the  strange,  loud  sounds,  and  admire  the  gymnastic 
exercises  performed  by  his  fingers ;  and  you  see  that  the 
performer  wishes  to  impress  upon  you  that  the  sounds  he  is 
producing  express  various  poetic  strivings  of  the  soul.  You 
see  his  intention,  but  no  feeling  whatever  is  transmitted  to 
you  except  weariness.  The  execution  lasts  long,  or  at  least 
it  seems  very  long  to  you,  because  you  do  not  receive  any 
clear  impression,  and  involuntarily  you  remember  the  words 
of  Alphonse  Karr,  "  Plus  $a  va  vite,  plus  $a  dure  longtemps" l 
And  it  occurs  to  you  that  perhaps  it  is  all  a  mystification ; 
perhaps  the  performer  is  trying  you — just  throwing  his 
hands  and  fingers  wildly  about  the  key-board  in  the  hope 
that  you  will  fall  into  the  trap  and  praise  him,  and  then 
he  will  laugh  and  confess  that  he  only  wanted  to  see  if 
he  could  hoax  you.  But  when  at  last  the  piece  does 
finish,  and  the  perspiring  and  agitated  musician  rises  from 
the  piano  evidently  anticipating  praise,  you  see  that  it  was 
all  done  in  earnest. 

The  same  thing  takes  place  at  all  the  concerts  with  pieces 
by  Liszt,  Wagner,  Berlioz,  Brahms,  and  (newest  of  all) 
Richard  Strauss,  and  the  numberless  other  composers  of 
the  new  school,  who  unceasingly  produce  opera  after  opera, 
symphony  after  symphony,  piece  after  piece. 

1  The  quicker  it  goes  the  longer  it  lasts. 

98  WHAT  IS  ART? 

The  same  is  occurring  in  a  domain  in  which  it  seemed  hard 
to  be  unintelligible — in  the  sphere  of  novels  and  short  stories. 

Read  La  -  Bas  by  Huysmans,  or  some  of  Kipling's 
short  stories,  or  L'annonciateur  by  Villiers  de  1'Isle  Adam 
in  his  Contes  Gruels,  etc.,  and  you  will  find  them  not  only 
"  abscons  "  (to  use  a  word  adopted  by  the  neAv  writers),  but 
absolutely  unintelligible  both  in  form  and  in  substance. 
Such,  again,  is  the  work  by  E.  Morel,  Terre  Promise,  now 
appearing  in  the  Revue  Blanche,  and  such  are  most  of 
the  new  novels.  The  style  is  very  high-flown,  the  feelings 
seem  to  be  most  elevated,  but  you  can't  make  out  what  is 
happening,  to  whom  it  is  happening,  and  where  it  is  happen 
ing.  And  such  is  the  bulk  of  the  young  art  of  our  time. 

People  who  grew  up  in  the  first  half  of  this  century, 
admiring  Goethe,  Schiller,  Musset,  Hugo,  Dickens, 
Beethoven,  Chopin,  Raphael,  da  Vinci,  Michael  Angelo, 
Deiaroche,  being  unable  to  make  head  or  tail  of  this  new 
art,  simply  attribute  its  productions  to  tasteless  insanity  and 
wish  to  ignore  them.  But  such  an  attitude  towards  this 
new  art  is  quite  unjustifiable,  because,  in  the  first  place, 
that  art  is  spreading  more  and  more,  and  has  already 
conquered  for  itself  a  firm  position  in  society,  similar  to 
the  one  occupied  by  the  Romanticists  in  the  third  decade 
of  this  century ;  and  secondly  and  chiefly,  because,  if  it  is 
permissible  to  judge  in  this  way  of  the  productions  of  the 
latest  form  of  art,  called  by  us  Decadent  art,  merely  because 
we  do  not  understand  it,  then  remember,  there  are  an 
enormous  number  of  people, — all  the  labourers  and  many  of 
the  non-labouring  folk, — who,  in  just  the  same  way,  do  not 
comprehend  those  productions  of  art  which  we  consider 
admirable :  the  verses  of  our  favourite  artists — Goethe, 
Schiller,  and  Hugo;  the  novels  of  Dickens,  the  music  of 
Beethoven  and  Chopin,  the  pictures  of  Raphael,  Michael 
Angelo,  da  Vinci,  etc. 

If  I  have  a  right  to  think  that  great  masses  of  people  do 

WHAT  IS  ART?  99 

not  understand  and  do  not  like  what  I  consider  undoubtedly 
good  because  they  are  not  sufficiently  developed,  then  I 
have  no  right  to  deny  that  perhaps  the  reason  why  I  can 
not  understand  and  cannot  like  the  new  productions  of 
art,  is  merely  that  I  am  still  insufficiently  developed  to 
understand  them.  If  I  have  a  right  to  say  that  I,  and  the 
majority  of  people  who  are  in  sympathy,  with  me,  do  not 
understand  the  productions  of  the  new  art  simply  because 
there  is  nothing  in  it  to  understand  and  because  it  is  bad 
art,  then,  with  just  the  same  right,  the  still  larger  majority,, 
the  whole  labouring  mass,  who  do  not  understand  what  I 
consider  admirable  art,  can  say  that  what  I  reckon  as  good 
art  is  bad  art,  and  there  is  nothing  in  it  to  understand. 

I  once  saw  the  injustice  of  such  condemnation  of  the  new 
art  with  especial  clearness,  when,  in  my  presence,  a  certain 
poet,  who  writes  incomprehensible  verses,  ridiculed  incom 
prehensible  music  with  gay  self-assurance ;  and,  shortly  after 
wards,  a  certain  musician,  who  composes  incomprehensible 
symphonies,  laughed  at  incomprehensible  poetry  with  equal 
self-confidence.  I  have  no  right,  and  no  authority,  to 
condemn  the  new  art  on  the  ground  that  I  (a  man  educated 
in  the  first  half  of  the  century)  do  not  understand  it ;  I  can 
only  say  that  it  is  incomprehensible  to  me.  The  only 
advantage  the  art  I  acknowledge  has  over  the  Decadent 
art,  lies  in  the  fact  that  the  art  I  recognise  is  comprehensible' 
to  a  somewhat  larger  number  of  people  than  the  present- 
day  art. 

The  fact  that  I  am  accustomed  to  a  certain  exclusive  art, 
and  can  understand  it,  but  am  unable  to  understand 
another  still  more  exclusive  art,  does  not  give  me  a  right  to 
conclude  that  my  art  is  the  real  true  art,  and  that  the  other 
one,  which  I  do  not  understand,  is  an  unreal,  a  bad  art.  I 
can  only  conclude  that  art,  becoming  ever  more  and  more 
exclusive,  has  become  more  and  more  incomprehensible  to 
an  ever-increasing  number  of  people,  and  that,  in  this  its 

ioo  WHAT  IS  ART? 

progress  towards  greater  and  greater  incomprehensibility 
(on  one  level  of  which  I  am  standing,  with  the  art  familiar 
to  me),  it  has  reached  a  point  where  it  is  understood  by  a 
very  small  number  of  the  elect,  and  the  number  of  these 
chosen  people  is  ever  becoming  smaller  and  smaller. 

As  soon  as  ever  the  art  of  the  upper  classes  separated 
itself  from  universal  art,  a  conviction  arose  that  art  may 
be  art  and  yet  be  incomprehensible  to  the  masses.  And 
as  soon  as  this  position  was  admitted,  it  had  inevitably 
to  be  admitted  also  that  art  may  be  intelligible  only 
to  the  very  smallest  number  of  the  elect,  and,  event 
ually,  to  two,  or  to  one,  of  our  nearest  friends,  or  to  one 
self  alone.  Which  is  practically  what  is  being  said  by 
modern  artists: — "I  create  and  understand  myself,  and  if 
anyone  does  not  understand  me,  so  much  the  worse  for 

The  assertion  that  art  may  be  good  art,  and  at  the  same 
time  incomprehensible  to  a  great  number  of  people,  is  ex 
tremely  unjust,  and  its  consequences  are  ruinous  to  art  itself ; 
but  at  the  same  time  it  is  so  common  and  has  so  eaten  into 
our  conceptions,  that  it  is  impossible  sufficiently  to  elucidate 
all  the  absurdity  of  it. 

Nothing  is  more  common  than  to  hear  it  said  of  reputed 
works  of  art,  that  they  are  very  good  but  very  difficult 
to  understand.  We  are  quite  used  to  such  assertions,  and 
yet  to  say  that  a  work  of  art  is  good,  but  incomprehen 
sible  to  the  majority  of  men,  is  the  same  as  saying  of  some 
kind  of  food  that  it  is  very  good  but  that  most  people 
-can't  eat  it.  The  majority  of  men  may  not  like  rotten 
•cheese  or  putrefying  grouse — dishes  esteemed  by  people  with 
perverted  tastes;  but  bread  and  fruit  are  only  good  when 
they  please  the  majority  of  men.  And  it  is  the  same  with 
-art.  Perverted  art  may  not  please  the  majority  of  men,  but 
(good  art  always  pleases  everyone. 

It  is  said  that  the  very  best  works  of  art  are  such  that 

WHAT  IS  ART?  101 

they  cannot  be  understood  by  the  mass,  but  are  accessible 
only  to  the  elect  who  are  prepared  to  understand  these  great 
works.  But  if  the  majority  of  men  do  not  understand,  the 
knowledge  necessary  to  enable  them  to  understand  should 
be  taught  and  explained  to  them.  But  it  turns  out  that 
there  is  no  such  knowledge,  that  the  works  cannot  be 
explained,  and  that  those  who  say  the  majority  do  not 
understand  good  works  of  art,  still  do  not  explain  those 
works,  but  only  tell  us  that,  in  order  to  understand  them, 
one  must  read,  and  see,  and  hear  these  same  works  over 
and  over  again.  But  this  is  not  to  explain,  it  is  only  to 
habituate !  And  people  may  habituate  themselves  to  any 
thing,  even  to  the  very  worst  things.  As  people  may  habitu 
ate  themselves  to  bad  food,  to  spirits,  tobacco/  and  opium, 
just  in  the  same  way  they  may  habituate  themselves  _to  bad 
art — and  that  is  exactly  what  is  being  done. 

Moreover,  it  cannot  be  said  that  the  majority  of  people 
lack  the  taste  to  esteem  the  highest  works  of  art.  The 
majority  always  have  understood,  and  still  understand,  what 
we  also  recognise  as  being  the  very  best  art :  the  epic  of 
Genesis,  the  Gospel  parables,  folk-legends,  fairy-tales,  and 
folk-songs  are  understood  by  all.  How  can  it  be  that  the 
majority  has  suddenly  lost  its  capacity  to  understand  what 
is  high  in  our  art "? 

Of  a  speech  it  may  be  said  that  it  is  admirable,  but  in 
comprehensible  to  those  who  do  not  know  the  language  in 
which  it  is  delivered.  A  speech  delivered  in  Chinese  may 
be  excellent,  and  may  yet  remain  incomprehensible  to  me 
if  I  do  not  know  Chinese ;  but  what  distinguishes  a  work  of 
art  from  all  other  mental  activity  is  just  the  fact  that  its 
language  is  understood  by  all,  and  that  it  infects  all  without 
distinction.  The  tears  and  laughter  of  a  Chinese  infect  me 
just  as  the  laughter  and  tears  of  a  Russian ;  and  it  is  the 
same  with  painting  and  music  and  poetry,  when  it  is  trans 
lated  into  a  language  I  understand.  The  songs  of  a  Kirghiz 

102  WHAT  IS  ART? 

or  of  a  Japanese  touch  me,  though  in  a  lesser  degree  than 
they  touch  a  Kirghiz  or  a  Japanese.  I  am  also  touched  by 
Japanese  painting,  Indian  architecture,  and  Arabian  stories. 
If  I  am  but  little  touched  by  a  Japanese  song  and  a  Chinese 
novel,  it  is  not  that  I  do  not  understand  these  productions, 
but  that  I  know  and  am  accustomed  to  higher  works  of 
art.  It  is  not  because  their  art  is  above  me.  Grea.t  works 
./..,.  of  art  are  only  great  because  they  are  accessible  and  compre 
hensible  to  everyone.  The  story  of  Joseph,  translated  into 
the  Chinese  language,  touches  a  Chinese.  The  story  of  Sakya 
Muni  touches  us.  And  there  are,  and  must  bo,  buildings, 
pictures,  statues,  and  music  of  similar  power.  So  that,  if  art 
fails  to  move  men,  it  cannot  be  said  that  this  is  due  to  the 
spectators'  or  hearers'  lack  of  understanding ;  but  the  con 
clusion  to  be  drawn  may,  and  should  be,  that  such  art  is 
either  bad  art,  or  is  not  art  at  all. 

Art  is  differentiated  from  activity  of  the  understanding, 
which  demands  preparation  and  a  certain  sequence  of  know 
ledge  (so  that  one  cannot  learn  trigonometry  before  knowing 
geometry),  by  the  fact  that  it  acts  on  people  independently  of 
their  state  of  development  and  education,  that  the  charm  of 
a  picture,  of  sounds,  or  of  forms,  infects  any  man  whatever 
his  plane  of  development. 

The  business  of  art  lies  just  in  this — to  make  that  under 
stood  and  felt  which,  in  the  form  of  an  argument,  might  be 
incomprehensible  and  inaccessible.  Usually  it  seems  to  the 
recipient  of  a  truly  artistic  impression  that  he  knew  the  thing 
before  but  had  been  unable  to  express  it. 

And  such  has  always  been  the  nature  of  good,  supreme  art ; 
the  Iliad,  the  Odyssey,  the  stories  of  Isaac,  Jacob,  and  Joseph, 
the  Hebrew  prophets,  the  psalms,  the  Gospel  parables,  the 
story  of  Sakya  Muni,  and  the  hymns  of  the  Vedas :  all  transmit 
very  elevated  feelings,  and  are  nevertheless  quite  compre 
hensible  now  to  us,  educated  or  uneducated,  as  they  were  com 
prehensible  to  the  men  of  those  times,  long  ago,  who  were 

WHAT  IS  ART?  105 

even  less  educated  than  our  labourers.  People  talk  about 
incomprehensibility ;  but  if  art  is  the  transmission  of  feelings 
flowing  from  man's  religious  perception,  how  can  a  feeling 
be  incomprehensible  which  is  founded  on  religion,  i.e.  on 
man's  relation  to  God  ?  Such  art  should  be,  and  has  actually, 
always  been,  comprehensible  to  everybody,  because  every 
man's  relation  to  God  is  one  and  the  same.  And  therefore 
the  churches  and  the  images  in  them  were  always  compre 
hensible  to  everyone.  The  hindrance  to  understanding  the 
best  and  highest  feelings  (as  is  said  in  the  gospel)  does  not  at 
all  lie  in  deficiency  of  development  or  learning,  but,  on  the 
contrary,  in  false  development  and  false  learning.  A  good  V 
and  lofty  work  of  art  may  be  incomprehensible,  but  not  to  \ 
simple,  unperverted  peasant  labourers  (all  that  is  highest  is  I 
understood  by  them) — it  may  be,  and  often  is,  unintelligible 
to  erudite,  perverted  people  destitute  of  religion.  And  this 
continually  occurs  in  our  society,  in  which  the  highest  feelings 
are  simply  not  understood.  For  instance,  I  know  people 
who  consider  themselves  most  refined,  and  who  say  that 
they  do  not  understand  the  poetry  of  love  to  one's  neighbour, 
of  self-sacrifice,  or  of  chastity. 

So  that  good,  great,  universal,  religious  art  may  be  incom-     , 
prehensible  to  a  small  circle  of  spoilt  people,  but  certainly 
not  to  any  large  number  of  plain  men. 

Art  cannot  be  incomprehensible  to  the  great  masses 
only  because  it  is  very  good, — as  artists  of  our  day  are  fond 
of  telling  us.  Rather  we  are  bound  to  conclude  that  this 
art  is  unintelligible  to  the  great  masses  only  because  it  is 
very  bad  art,  or  even  is  not  art  at  all.  So  that  the  favourite 
argument  (naively  accepted  by  the  cultured  crowd),  that  in 
order  to  feel  art  one  has  first  to  understand  it  (which 
really  only  means  habituate  oneself  to  it),  is  the  truest 
indication  that  what  we  are  asked  to  understand  by  such 
a  method  is  either  very  bad,  exclusive  art,  or  is  not  art 
at  all. 

102  WHAT  IS  ART? 

People  say  that  works  of  art  do  not  please  the  people 
becauste  they  are  incapable  of  understanding  them.  But  if 
the  aim  of  works  of  art  is  to  infect  people  with  the  emotion 
the  artist  has  experienced,  how  can  one  talk  about  not 
understanding  1 

A  man  of  the  people  reads  a  book,  sees  a  picture,  hears  a 
play  or  a  symphony,  and  is  touched  by  no  feeling.  He  is 
told  that  this  is  because  he  cannot  understand.  People 
promise  to  let  a  man  see  a  certain  show ;  he  enters  and  sees 
nothing.  He  is  told  that  this  is  because  his  sight  is  not 
prepared  for  this  show.  But  the  man  well  knows  that  he 
sees  quite  well,  and  if  he  does  not  see  what  people  promised 
to  show  him,  he  only  concludes  (as  is  quite  just)  that  those 
who  undertook  to  show  him  the  spectacle  have  not  fulfilled 
their  engagement.  And  it  is  perfectly  just  for  a  man  who 
does  feel  the  influence  of  some  works  of  art  to  come  to  this 
conclusion  concerning  artists  who  do  not,  by  their  works, 
evoke  feeling  in  him.  To  say  that  the  reason  a  man  is  not 
touched  by  my  art  is  because  he  is  still  too  stupid,  besides 
being  very  self-conceited  and  also  rude,  is  to  reverse  the 
roles,  and  for  the  sick  to  send  the  hale  to  bed. 

Voltaire  said  that  "  Tons  les  genres  sont  Ions,  Tiors  le 
genre  ennuyeux " ; 1  but  with  even  more  right  one  may  say 
of  art  that  Tons  les  genres  sons  Ions,  liors  celui  qu'on  ne 
comprend  pas,  or  qui  ne  produit  pas  son  e/et,2  for  of 
what  value  is  an  article  which  fails  to  do  that  for  which 
it  was  intended? 

Mark  this  above  all :  if  only  it  be  admitted  that  art 
may  be  art  and  yet  be  unintelligible  to  anyone  of  sound 
mind,  there  is  no  reason  why  any  circle  of  perverted  people 
should  not  compose  works  tickling  their  own  perverted 
feelings  and  comprehensible  to  no  one  but  themselves,  and 

1  All  styles  are  good  except  the  wearisome  style. 

2  All  styles  are  good  except  that  which  is  not  understood,  or  which 
fails  to  produce  its  effect. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  105 

call  it    "  art,"  as  is  actually  being   done   by  the   so-called 

The    direction    art    has    taken    may    be    compared    to 
placing  on  a  large  circle  other  circles,  smaller  and  smaller,/ 
until  a  cone  is  formed,  the  apex  of  which  is  no  longer  al 
circle  at  all.     That  is  what  has  happened  to  the  art  of  our^ 



BECOMING  ever  poorer  and  poorer  in  subject-matter  and 
more  and  more  unintelligible  in  form,  the  art  of  the  upper 
classes,  in  its  latest  productions,  has  even  lost  all  the 
characteristics  of  art,  and  has  been  replaced  by  imitations 
of  art.  Not  only  has  upper-class  art,  in  consequence  of  its 
separation  from  universal  art,  become  poor  in  subject-matter 
and  bad  in  form,  i.e.  ever  more  and  more  unintelligible,  it 
has,  in  course  of  time,  ceased  even  to  be  art  at  all,  and  has 
been  replaced  by  counterfeits. 

This  has  resulted  from  the  following  causes.  Universal  art 
arises  only  when  some  one  of  the  people,  having  experienced 
a  strong  emotion,  feels  the  necessity  of  transmitting  it  to 
others.  The  art  of  the  rich  classes,  on  the  other  hand, 
arises  not  from  the  artist's  inner  impulse,  but  chiefly  because 
people  of  the  upper  classes  demand  amusement  and  pay  well 
for  it.  They  demand  from  art  the  transmission  of  feelings 
that  please  them,  and  this  demand  artists  try  to  meet.  But 
it  is  a  very  difficult  task,  for  people  of  the  wealthy  classes, 
spending  their  lives  in  idleness  and  luxury,  desire  to  be 
continually  diverted  by  art;  and  art,  even  the  lowest, 
cannot  be  produced  at  will,  but  has  to  generate  spontaneously 
in  the  artist's  inner  self.  And  therefore,  to  satisfy  the 
demands  of  people  of  the  upper  classes,  artists  have  had  to 
devise  methods  of  producing  imitations  of  art.  And  such 
methods  have  been  devised. 

These  methods  are  those  of  (1)  borrowing,  (2)  imitating, 
(3)  striking  (effects),  and  (4)  interesting. 


WHAT  2S  ART?  107 

The  first  method  consists  in  borrowing  whole  subjects,  or 
merely  separate  features,  from  former  works  recognised  by  every 
one  as  being  poetical,  and  in  so  re-shaping  them,  with  sundry 
additions,  that  they  should  have  an  appearance  of  novelty. 

Such  works,  evoking  in  people  of  a  certain  class  memories 
of  artistic  feelings  formerly  experienced,  produce  an  impres 
sion -similar  to  art,  and,  provided  only  that  they  conform  to 
other  needful  conditions,  they  pass  for  art  among  those  who 
seek  for  pleasure  from  art.  Subjects  borrowed  from  previous 
works  of  art  are  usually  called  poetical  subjects.  Objects 
and  people  thus  borrowed  are  called  poetical  objects  and 
people.  Thus,  in  our  circle,  all  sorts  of  legends,  sagas, 
and  ancient  traditions  are  considered  poetical  subjects. 
Among  poetical  people  and  objects  we  reckon  maidens, 
warriors,  shepherds,  hermits,  angels,  devils  of  all  sorts,  moon 
light,  thunder,  mountains,  the  sea,  precipices,  flowers,  long 
hair,  lions,  lambs,  doves,  and  nightingales.  In  general,  all 
those  objects  are  considered  poetical  which  have  been  most 
frequently  used  by  former  artists  in  their  productions. 

Some  forty  years  ago  a  stupid  but  highly  cultured — ay  ant 
beaucoup  d'acquis — lady  (since  deceased)  asked  me  to  listen 
to  a  novel  written  by  herself.  It  began  with  a  heroine  who, 
in  a  poetic  white  dress,  and  with  poetically  flowing  hair, 
was  reading  poetry  near  some  water  in  a  poetic  wood. 
The  scene  was  in  Russia,  but  suddenly  from  behind  the 
bushes  the  hero  appears,  wearing  a  hat  with  a  feather  a  la 
Guillaume  Tell  (the  book  specially  mentioned  this)  and 
accompanied  by  two  poetical  white  dogs.  The  authoress 
deemed  all  this  highly  poetical,  and  it  might  have  passed 
rnuster  if  only  it  had  not  been  necessary  for  the  hero  to 
speak.  But  as  soon  as  the  gentleman  in  the  hat  a  la 
Guillaume  Tell  began  to  converse  with  the  maiden  in  the 
white  dress,  it  became  obvious  that  the  authoress  had 
nothing  to  say,  but  had  merely  been  moved  by  poetic 
memories  of  other  works,  and  imagined  that  by  ringing  the 

io8  WHAT  IS  ART? 

changes  on  those  memories  she  could  produce  an  artistic 
impression.  But  an  artistic  impression,  i.e.  infection,  is 
only  received  when  an  author  has,  in  the  manner  ...peculiar 
to  himself,  experienced  the  feeling  which  he  transmits,  and 
not  when  he  passes  on  another  man's  feeling  previously 
transmitted  to  him.  Such  poetry  from  poetry  cannot  infect 
people,  it  can  only  simulate  a  work  of  art,  and  even  that 
only  to  people  of  perverted  aesthetic  taste.  The  lady  in 
question  being  very  stupid  and  devoid  of  talent,  it  was  at 
once  apparent  how  the  case  stood ;  but  when  such  borrowing 
is  resorted  to  by  people  who  are  erudite  and  talented  and  have 
cultivated  the  technique  of  their  art,  we  get  those  borrow 
ings  from  the  Greek,  the  antique,  the  Christian  or  mytho 
logical  world  which  have  become  so  numerous,  and  which, 
particularly  in  our  day,  continue  to  increase  and  multiply, 
and  are  accepted  by  the  public  as  works  of  art,  if  only  the 
borrowings  are  well  mounted  by  means  of  the  technique  of 
the  particular  art  to  which  they  belong. 

As  a  characteristic  example  of  such  counterfeits  of  art 
in  the  realm  of  poetry,  take  Eostand's  Princesse  Lointaine, 
in  which  there  is  not  a  spark  of  art,  but  which  seems  very 
poetical  to  many  people,  and  probably  also  to  its  author. 

The  second  method  of  imparting  a  semblance  of  art  is 
that  which  I  have  called  imitating.  The  essence  of  this 
method  consists  in  supplying  details  accompanying  the  thing 
described  or  depicted.  In  literary  art  this  method  consists 
in  describing,  in  the  minutest  details,  the  external  appear 
ance,  the  faces,  the  clothes,  the  gestures,  the  tones,  and  the 
habitations  of  the  characters  represented,  with  all  the  occur J 
rences  met  with  in  life.  For  instance,  in  novels  and  stories, 
when  one  of  the  characters  speaks  we  are  told  in  what  voice 
he  spoke,  and  what  he  was  doing  at  the  time.  And  the 
things  said  are  not  given  so  that  they  should  have  as  much 
sense  as  possible,  but,  as  they  are  in  life,  disconnectedly, 
and  with  interruptions  and  omissions.  In  dramatic  art, 

WHAT  IS  ART?  109 

besides  such  imitation  of  real  speech,  this  method  consists 
in  having  all  the  accessories  and  all  the  people  just  like 
those  in  real  life.  In  painting  this  method  assimilates 
painting  to  photography  and  destroys  the  difference  between 
them.  And,  strange  to  say,  this  method  is  used  also  in 
music  :  music  tries  to  imitate  not  only  by  its  rhythm  but 
also  by  its  very  sounds,  the  sounds  which  in  real  life  accom 
pany  the  thing  it  wishes  to  represent. 

The  third  method  is  by  action,  often  purely  physical,  on 
the  outer  senses.  Work  of  this  kind  is  said  to  be  "  striking," 
"  effect-ful."  In  all  arts  these  effects  consist  chiefly  in  con 
trasts  ;  in  bringing  together  the  terrible  and  the  tender,  the 
beautiful  and  the  hideous,  the  loud  and  the  soft,  darkness 
and  light,  the  most  ordinary  and  the  most  extraordinary.  In 
verbal  art,  besides  effects  of  contrast,  there  are  also  effects 
consisting  in  the  description  of  things  that  have  never  before 
been  described.  These  are  usually  pornographic  details 
evoking  sexual  desire,  or  details  of  suffering  and  death 
evoking  feelings  of  horror,  as,  for  instance,  when  describing 
a  murder,  to  give  a  detailed  medical  account  of  the  lacerated 
tissues,  of  the  swellings,  of  the  smell,  quantity  and  appear 
ance  of  the  blood.  It  is  the  same  in  painting :  besides  all 
kinds  of  other  contrasts,  one  is  coming  into  vogue  which 
consists  in  giving  careful  finish  to  one  object  and  being 
careless  about  all  the  rest.  The  chief  and  usual  effects  in 
painting  are  effects  of  light  and  the  depiction  of  the  horrible. 
In  the  drama,  the  most  common  effects,  besides  contrasts,  are 
tempests,  thunder,  moonlight,  scenes  at  sea  or  by  the  sea 
shore,  changes  of  costume,  exposure  of  the  female  body, 
madness,  murders,  and  death  generally :  the  dying  person 
exhibiting  in  detail  all  the  phases  of  agony.  In  music  the 
most  usual  effects  are  a  crescendo,  passing  from  the  softest 
and  simplest  sounds  to  the  loudest  and  most  complex  crash 
of  the  full  orchestra ;  a  repetition  of  the  same  sounds 
arpeggio  in  all  the  octaves  and  on  various  instruments; 

no  WHAT  IS  ART? 

or  that  the  harmony,  tone,  and  rhythm  be  not  at  all  those 
naturally  flowing  from  the  course  of  the  musical  thought,  but 
such  as  strike  one  by  their  unexpectedness.  Besides  these,  the 
commonest  effects  in  music  are  produced  in  a  purely  physical 
manner  by  strength  of  sound,  especially  in  an  orchestra. 

Such  are  some  of  the  most  usual  effects  in  the  various 
arts,  but  there  yet  remains  one  common  to  them  all,  namely, 
to  convey  by  means  of  one  art  what  it  would  be  natural  to 
convey  by  another :  for  instance,  to  make  music  describe  (as  is 
done  by  the  programme  music  of  Wagner  and  his  followers), 
or  to  make  painting,  the  drama,  or  poetry,  induce  a  frame  of 
mind  (as  is  aimed  at  by  all  the  Decadent  art). 

The  fourth  method  is  that  of  interesting  (that  is,  absorbing 
the  mind)  in  connection  with  works  of  art.  The  interest 
may  lie  in  an  intricate  plot — a  method  till  quite  recently 
much  employed  in  English  novels  and  French  plays,  but 
now  going  out  of  fashion  and  being  replaced  by  authenticity, 
i.e.  by  detailed  description  of  some  historical  period  or  some 
branch  of  contemporary  life.  For  example,  in  a  novel, 
interesting-ness  may  consist  in  a  description  of  Egyptian  or 
Eoman  life,  the  life  of  miners,  or  that  of  the  clerks  in  a 
large  shop.  The  reader  becomes  interested  and  mistakes 
this  interest  for  an  artistic  impression.  The  interest  may 
also  depend  on  the  very  method  of  expression;  a  kind  of 
interest  that  has  now  come  much  into  use.  Both  verse  and 
prose,  as  well  as  pictures,  plays,  and  music,  are  constructed 
.  so  that  they  must  be  guessed  like  riddles,  and  this  process 
of  guessing  again  affords  pleasure  and  gives  a  semblance  of 
the  feeling  received  from  art. 

It  is  very  often  said  that  a  work  of  art  is  very  good 

f  because  it  is  poetic,  or  realistic,  or  striking,   or  interesting; 

)  whereas  not  only  can  neither  the  first,  nor  the  second,  nor 
^  the   third,    nor   the    fourth   of    these   attributes   supply   a 

)  standard   of    excellence   in   art,    but   they   have   not   even 

1  anything  in  common  with  art. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  ill 

Poetic — means  borrowed.  All  borrowing  merely  recalls  to 
the  reader,  spectator,  or  listener  some  dim  recollection  of 
artistic  impressions  they  have  received  from  previous 
works  of  art,  and  does  not  infect  them  with  feeling  which 
the  artist  has  himself  experienced.  A  work  founded  on 
something  borrowed,  like  Goethe's  Faust  for  instance,  may 
be  very  Avell  executed  and  be  full  of  mind  and  every  beauty,, 
but  because  it  lacks  the  chief  characteristic  of  a  work  of  art — • 
completeness,  oneness,  the  inseparable  unity  of  form  and 
contents  expressing  the  feeling  the  artist  has  experienced — 
it  cannot  produce  a  really  artistic  impression.  In  availing 
himself  of  this  method,  the  artist  only  transmits  the  feeling 
received  by  him  from  a  previous  work  of  art ;  therefore  every 
borrowing,  whether  it  be  of  whole  subjects,  or  of  various 
scenes,  situations,  or  descriptions,  is  but  a  reflection  of  art,. 
a  simulation  of  it,  but  not  art  itself.  And  therefore,  to  say 
that  a  certain  production  is  good  because  it  is  poetic, — i.e. 
resembles  a  work  of  art, — is  like  saying  of  a  coin  that  it  is 
good  because  it  resembles  real  money. 

Equally  little  can  imitation,  realism,  serve,  as  many  people 
think,  as  a  measure  of  the  quality  of  art.  Imitation  cannot 
be  such  a  measure,  for  the  chief  characteristic  of  art  is  the 
infection  of  others  with  the  feelings  the  artist  has  experienced, 
and  infection  with  a  feeling  is  not  only  not  identical  with 
description  of  the  accessories  of  what  is  transmitted,  but 
is  usually  hindered  by  superfluous  details.  The  attention 
of  the  receiver  of  the  artistic  impression  is  diverted  by  all 
these  well-observed  details,  and  they  hinder  the  transmission 
of  feeling  even  when  it  exists. 

To  value  a  work  of  art  by  the  degree  of  its  realism,  by  the 
accuracy  of  the  details  reproduced,  is  as  strange  as  to  judge 
of  the  nutritive  quality  of  food  by  its  external  appearance. 
When  we  appraise  a  work  according  to  its  realism,  we  only 
show  that  we  are  talking,  not  of  a  work  of  art,  but  of  its-' 

112  WHAT  IS  ART? 

Neither  does  the  third  method  of  imitating  art — by 
the  use  of  what  is  striking  or  effectful — coincide  with 
real  art  any  better  than  the  two  former  methods,  for 
in  effectfulness — the  effects  of  novelty,  of  the  unexpected, 
of  contrasts,  of  the  horrible — there  is  no  transmission  of 
feeling,  but  only  an  action  on  the  nerves.  If  an  artist  were 
to  paint  a  bloody  wound  admirably,  the  sight  of  the  wound 
would  strike  me,  but  it  would  not  be  art.  One  prolonged 
note  on  a  powerful  organ  will  produce  a  striking  impression, 
will  often  even  cause  tears,  but  there  is  no  music  in  it, 
because  no  feeling  is  transmitted.  Yet  such  physiological 
\  effects  are  constantly  mistaken  for  art  by  people  of  our 
;  circle,  and  this  not  only  in  music,  but  also  in  poetry, 
painting,  and  the  drama.  It  is  said  that  art  has  become 
refined.  On  the  contrary,  thanks  to  the  pursuit  of  elfectful- 
ness,  it  has  become  very  coarse.  A  new  piece  is  brought 
out  and  accepted  all  over  Europe,  such,  for  instance,  as 
Hannele,  in  which  play  the  author  wishes  to  transmit  to  the 
spectators  pity  for  a  persecuted  girl.  To  evoke  this  feeling  in 
the  audience  by  means  of  art,  the  author  should  either  make 
one  of  the  characters  express  this  pity  in  such  a  way  as  to 
infect  everyone,  or  he  should  describe  the  girl's  feelings  cor 
rectly.  But  he  cannot,  or  will  not,  do  this,  and  chooses 
another  wray,  more  complicated  in  stage  management  but 
easier  for  the  author.  He  makes  the  girl  die  on  the  stage ; 
and,  still  further  to  increase  the  physiological  effect  on  the 
spectators,  he  extinguishes  the  lights  in  the  theatre,  leaving 
the  audience  in  the  dark,  and  to  the  sound  of  dismal  music 
he  shows  how  the  girl  is  pursued  and  beaten  by  her  drunken 
father.  The  girl  shrinks  —  screams  —  groans  —  and  falls. 
Angels  appear  and  carry  her  away.  And  the  audience, 
•experiencing  some  excitement  while  this  is  going  on,  are 
fully  convinced  that  this  is  true  aesthetic  feeling.  But 
there  is  nothing  aesthetic  in  such  excitement,  for  there  is  no 
infecting  of  man  by  man,  but  only  a  mingled  feeling  of 

WHAT  IS  ART?  113 

pity  for  another,  and  of  self-congratulation  that  it  is  not  I 
who  am  suffering  :  it  is  like  what  we  feel  at  the  sight  of 
an  execution,  or  what  the  Romans  felt  in  their  circuses. 

The  substitution  of  effectfulness  for  JBsthetic  feeling  is 
particularly  noticeable  in  musical  art — that  art  which  by 
its  nature  has  an  immediate  physiological  action  on  the 
nerves.  Instead  of  transmitting  by  means  of  a  melody  the 
feelings  he  has  experienced,  a  composer  of  the  new  school 
accumulates  and  complicates  sounds,  and  by  now  strengthen 
ing,  now  weakening  them,  he  produces  on  the  audience  a 
physiological  effect  of  a  kind  that  can  be  measured  by  an 
apparatus  invented  for  the  purpose.1  And  the  public  mistake 
this  physiological  effect  for  the  effect  of  art. 

As  to  the  fourth  method — that  of  interesting — it  also  is 
frequently  confounded  with  art.  One  often  hears  it  said, 
not  only  of  a  poem,  a  novel,  or  a  picture,  but  even  of  a 
musical  work,  that  it  is  interesting.  AVhat  does  this  mean  1 
To  speak  of  an  interesting  work  of  art  means  either  that  we 
receive  from  a  work  of  art  information  new  to  us,  or  that 
the  work  is  not  fully  intelligible,  and  that  little  by  little, 
and  with  effort,  we  arrive  at  its  meaning,  and  experience  a 
certain  pleasure  in  this  process  of  guessing  it.  In  neither 
case  has  the  interest  anything  in  common  with  artistic  im 
pression.  Art  aims  at  infecting  people  with  feeling  experi 
enced  by  tKe~artist.  "But  the  mental  effort  necessary  to 
enable  the  spectator,  listener,  or  reader  to  assimilate  the  new 
information  contained  in  the  work,  or  to  guess  the  puzzles 
propounded,  by  distracting  him,  hinders  the  infection. 
And  therefore  the  interestingness  of  a  work  not  only  has 
nothing  to  do  with  its  excellence  as  a  work  of  art,  but 
rather  hinders  than  assists  artistic  impression. 

We  may,  in  a  work  of  art,  meet  with  what  is  poetic,  and 

1  An  apparatus  exists  by  means  of  which  a  very  sensitive  arrow, 
in  dependence  on  the  tension  of  a  muscle  of  the  arm,   will  indicate 
the  physiological  action  of  music  on  the  nerves  and  muscles. 

114  WHAT  IS  ART? 

realistic,  and  striking,  and  interesting,  but  these  things  cannot 
replace  the  essential  of  art — feeling  experienced  by  the  artist. 
Latterly,  in  upper-class  art,  most  of  the  objects  given  out  as 
being  works  of  art  are  of  the  kind  which  only  resemble  art, 
and  are  devoid  of  its  essential  quality — feeling  experienced 
by  the  artist.  And,  for  the  diversion  of  the  rich,  such  objects 
are  continually  being  produced  in  enormous  quantities  by 
the  artisans  of  art. 

Many  conditions  must  be  fulfilled  to  enable  a  man  to 
produce  a  real  work  of  art.  It  is  necessary  that  he  should 
stand  on  the  level  of  the  highest  life-conception  of  his 
time,  that  he  should  experience  feeling  and  have  the  desire 
and  capacity  to  transmit  it,  and  that  he  should,  moreover, 
have  a  talent  for  some  one  of  the  forms  of  art.  It  is  very 
seldom  that  all  these  conditions  necessary  to  the  production 
of  true  art  are  combined.  But  in  order — aided  by  the 
customary  methods  of  borrowing,  imitating,  introducing 
effects,  and  interesting — unceasingly  to  produce  counterfeits 
of  art  which  pass  for  art  in  our  society  and  are  well  paid 
for,  it  is  only  necessary  to  have  a  talent  for  some  branch  of 
art ;  and  this  is  very  often  to  be  met  with.  By  talent  I 
mean  ability :  in  literary  art,  the  ability  to  express  one's 
thoughts  and  impressions  easily  and  to  notice  and  remember 
characteristic  details ;  in  the  depictive  arts,  to  distinguish 
and  remember  lines,  forms,  and  colours ;  in  music,  to 
distinguish  the  intervals,  and  to  remember  and  transmit 
the  sequence  of  sounds.  And  a  man,  in  our  times,  if  only 
he  possesses  such  a  talent  and  selects  some  specialty,  may, 
after  learning  the  methods  of  counterfeiting  used  in  his 
branch  of  art, — if  he  has  patience  and  if  his  aesthetic  feeling 
(which  would  render  such  productions  revolting  to  him)  be 
atrophied, — unceasingly,  till  the  end  of  his  life,  turn  out 
works  which  will  pass  for  art  in  our  society. 

To  produce  such  counterfeits,  definite  rules  or  recipes 
exist  in  each  branch  of  art.  So  that  the  talented  man, 

WHAT  IS  ART?  115 

having  assimilated  them,  may  produce  such  works  a  froid, 
cold  drawn,  without  any  feeling. 

In  order  to  write  poems  a  man  of  literary  talent  needs 
only  these  qualifications  :  to  acquire  the  knack,  conformably 
with  the  requirements  of  rhyme  and  rhythm,  of  using,  in 
stead  of  the  one  really  suitable  word,  ten  others  meaning 
approximately  the  same;  to  learn  how  to  take  any  phrase 
which,  to  be  clear,  has  but  one  natural  order  of  .words,  and 
despite  all  possible  dislocations  still  to  retain  some  sense 
in  it;  and  lastly,  to  be  able,  guided  by  the  words  required 
for  the  rhymes,  to  devise  some  semblance  of  thoughts, 
feelings,  or  descriptions  to  suit  these  words.  Having 
acquired  these  qualifications,  he  may  unceasingly  produce 
poems — short  or  long,  religious,  amatory  or  patriotic,  accord 
ing  to  the  demand. 

If  a  man  of  literary  talent  wishes  to  write  a  story  or 
novel,  he  need  only  form  his  style — i.e.  learn  how  to 
describe  all  that  he  sees — and  accustom  himself  to  re 
member  or  note  down  details.  When  he  has  accustomed 
himself  to  this,  he  can,  according  to  his  inclination  or  the 
demand,  unceasingly  produce  novels  or  stories — historical, 
naturalistic,  social,  erotic,  psychological,  or  even  religious, 
for  which  latter  kind  a  demand  and  fashion  begins  to  show 
itself.  He  can  take  subjects  from  books  or  from  the  events 
of  life,  and  can  copy  the  characters  of  the  people  in  his  book 
from  his  acquaintances. 

And  such  novels  and  stories,  if  only  they  are  decked  out 
with  well  observed  and  carefully  rioted  details,  preferably 
erotic  ones,  will  be  considered  works  of  art,  even  though 
they  may  not  contain  a  spark  of  feeling  experienced. 

To  produce  art  in  dramatic  form,  a  talented  man,  in 
addition  to  all  that  is  required  for  novels  and  stories,  must 
also  learn  to  furnish  his  characters  with  as  many  smart 
and  witty  sentences  as  possible,  must  know  how  to  utilise 
theatrical  effects,  and  how  to  entwine  the  action  of  his 

n6  WHAT  IS  ART? 

characters  so  that  there  should  not  be  any  long  conversa 
tions,  but  as  much  bustle  and  movement  on  the  stage  as 
possible.  If  the  writer  is  able  to  do  this,  he  may  produce 
dramatic  works  one  after  another  without  stopping,  selecting 
his  subjects  from  the  reports  of  the  law  courts,  or  from 
the  latest  society  topic,  such  as  hypnotism,  heredity,  etc., 
or  from  deep  antiquity,  or  even  from  the  realms  of  fancy. 

In  the  sphere  of  painting  and  sculpture  it  is  still  easier 
for  the  talented  man  to  produce  imitations  of  art.  He 
need  only  learn  to  draw,  paint,  and  model — especially  naked 
bodies.  Thus  equipped  he  can  continue  to  paint  pictures, 
or  model  statues,  one  after  another,  choosing  subjects 
according  to  his  bent — mythological,  or  religious,  or  fan 
tastic,  or  symbolical ;  or  he  may  depict  what  is  written  about 
in  the  papers — a  coronation,  a  strike,  the  Turko-Grecian 
war,  famine  scenes ;  or,  commonest  of  all,  he  may  just  copy 
anything  he  thinks  beautiful — from  naked  women  to  copper 

For  the  production  of  musical  art  the  talented  man  needs 
still  less  of  what  constitutes  the  essence  of  art,  i.e.  feeling 
wherewith  to  infect  others;  but,  on  the  other  hand,  he 
requires  more  physical,  gymnastic  labour  than  for  any  other 
art,  unless  it  be  dancing.  To  produce  works  of  musical  art, 
he  must  first  learn  to  move  his  fingers  on  some  instrument 
as  rapidly  as  those  who  have  reached  the  highest  perfection; 
next  he  must  know  how  in  former  times  polyphonic  music 
was  written,  must  study  what  are  called  counterpoint  and 
fugue ;  and  furthermore,  he  must  learn  orchestration,  i.e.  how 
to  utilise  the  effects  of  the  instruments.  But  once  he  has 
learned  all  this,  the  composer  may  unceasingly  produce  one 
work  after  another;  whether  programme  -  music,  opera,  or 
song  (devising  sounds  more  or  less  corresponding  to  the 
words),  or  chamber  music,  i.e.  he  may  take  another  man's 
themes  and  work  them  up  into  definite  forms  by  means  of 
counterpoint  and  fugue ;  or,  what  is  commonest  of  all,  he 

WHAT  IS  ART?  117 

may  compose  fantastic  music,  i.e.  he  may  take  a  conjunction 
of  sounds  which  happens  to  come  to  hand,  and  pile  every 
sort  of  complication  and  ornamentation  on  to  this  chance 

Thus,  in  all  realms  of  art,  counterfeits  of  art  are  manu 
factured  to  a  ready-made,  prearranged  recipe,  and  these 
counterfeits  the  public  of  our  upper  classes  accept  for  real 

And  this  substitution  of  counterfeits  for  real  works  of 
art  was  the  third  and  most  important  consequence  of  the 
separation  of  the  art  of  the  upper  classes  from  universal  art. 


IN  our  society  three  conditions  co-operate  to  cause  the  pro 
duction  of  objects  of  counterfeit  art.  They  are — (1)  the 
considerable  remuneration  of  artists  for  their  productions 
and  the  professionalisation  of  artists  which  this  has  pro 
duced,  (2)  art  criticism,  and  (3)  schools  of  art. 

While  art  was  as  yet  undivided,  and  only  religious  art 
was  valued  and  rewarded  while  indiscriminate  art  was 
left  unrewarded,  there  were  no  counterfeits  of  art, 
or,  if  any  existed,  being  exposed  to  the  criticism  of  the 
whole  people,  they  quickly  disappeared.  But  as  soon  as 
that  division  occurred,  and  the  upper  classes  acclaimed 
every  kind  of  art  as  good  if  only  it  afforded  them  pleasure, 
and  began  to  reward  such  art  more  highly  than  any  other 
social  activity,  immediately  a  large  number  of  people  devoted 
themselves  to  this  activity,  and  art  assumed  quite  a  different 
character  and  became  a  profession. 

And  as  soon  as  this  occurred,  the  chief  and  most  precious 
quality  of  art — its  sincerity — was  at  once  greatly  weakened 
and  eventually  quite  destroyed. 

The  professional  artist  lives  by  his  art,  and  has  continually 
to  invent  subjects  for  his  works,  and  does  invent  them. 
And  it  is  obvious  how  great  a  difference  must  exist  between 
works  of  art  produced  on  the  one  hand  by  men  such  as 
the  Jewish  prophets,  the  authors  of  the  Psalms,  Francis  of 
Assisi,  the  authors  of  the  Iliad  and  Odyssey,  of  folk-stories, 
legends,  and  folk-songs,  many  of  whom  not  only  received 
no  remuneration  for  their  work,  but  did  not  even  attach 


WHAT  IS  ART?  I. 19 

their  names  to  it;  and,  on  the  other  hand,  works  produced 
by  court  poets,  dramatists  and  musicians  receiving  honours 
and  remuneration ;  and  later  on  by  professional  artists,  who 
lived  by  the  trade,  receiving  remuneration  from  newspaper 
editors,  publishers,  impresarios,  and  in  general  from  those 
agents  who  come  between  the  artists  and  the  town  public — 
the  consumers  of  art. 

Professionalism  is  the  first  condition  of  the  diffusion  of 
false,  counterfeit  art. 

The  second  condition  is  the  growth,  in  recent  times,  of 
artistic  criticism,  i.e.  the  valuation  of  art  not  by  everybody, 
and,  above  all,  not  by  plain  men,  but  by  erudite,  that  is,  by 
perverted  and  at  the  same  time  self-confident  individuals. 

A  friend  of  mine,  speaking  of  the  relation  of  critics  to 
artists,  half-jokingly  defined  it  thus  :  "  Critics  are  the  stupid 
who  discuss  the  wise."  However  partial,  inexact,  and  rude 
this  definition  may  be,  it  is  yet  partly  true,  and  is  incom 
parably  juster  than  the  definition  which  considers  critics  to 
be  men  who  can  explain  works  of  art. 

"  Critics  explain  !  "     What  do  they  explain  ? 

The  artist,  if  a  real  artist,  has  by  his  work  transmitted 
to  others  the  feeling  he  experienced.  What  is  there,  then, 
to  explain  ? 

If  a  work  be  good  as  art,  then  the  feeling  expressed  by 
the  artist — be  it  moral  or  immoral — transmits  itself  to 
other  people.  If  transmitted  to  others,  then  they  feel  it, 
and  all  interpretations  are  superfluous.  If  the  work -does 
not  infect  people,  no  explanation  can  make  it  contagious. 
An  artist's  work  cannot  be  interpreted.  Had  it  been  pos 
sible  to  explain  in  words  what  he  wished  to  convey,  the 
artist  would  have  expressed  himself  in  words.  He  expressed 
it  by  his  art,  only  because  the  feeling  he  experienced  could 
not  be  otherwise  transmitted.  The  interpretation  of  works 
of  art  by  words  only  indicates  that  the  interpreter  is  him 
self  incapable  of  feeling  the  infection  of  art.  And  this  is 

120  WHAT  IS  ART? 

actually  the  case,  for,  however  strange  it  may  seem  to  say 
so,  critics  have  always  been  people  less  susceptible  than 
other  men  to  the  contagion  of  art.  For  the  most  part  they 
are  able  writers,  educated  and  clever,  but  with  their  capacity 
of  being  infected  by  art  quite  perverted  or  atrophied.  And 
therefore  their  writings  have  always  largely  contributed,  and 
still  contribute,  to  the  perversion  of  the  taste  of  that  public 
which  reads  them  and  trusts  them. 

Artistic  criticism  did  not  exist — could  not  and  cannot 
exist — in  societies  where  art  is  undivided,  and  where,  con 
sequently,  it  is  appraised  by  the  religious  understanding-of- 
life  common  to  the  whole  people.  Art  criticism  grew, 
and  could  grow,  only  on  the  art  of  the  upper  classes,  who 
did  not  acknowledge  the  religious  perception  of  their  time. 

Universal  art  has  a  definite  and  indubitable  internal 
criterion — religious  perception ;  upper-class  art  lacks  this,  and 
therefore  the  appreciators  of  that  art  are  obliged  to  cling  to 
some  external  criterion.  And  they  find  it  in  "  the  judgments 
of  the  finest-nurtured,"  as  an  English  sesthetician  has 
phrased  it,  that  is,  in  the  authority  of  the  people  who  are 
considered  educated,  nor  in  this  alone,  but  also  in  a  tradition 
of  such  authorities.  This  tradition  is  extremely  misleading, 
both  because  the  opinions  of  "  the  finest-nurtured  "  are  often 
mistaken,  and  also  because  judgments  which  were  valid 
once  cease  to  be  so  with  the  lapse  of  time.  But  the  critics, 
having  no  basis  for  their  judgments,  never  cease  to  repeat 
their  traditions.  The  classical  tragedians  were  once  con 
sidered  good,  and  therefore  criticism  considers  them  to  be  so 
still.  Dante  was  esteemed  a  great  poet,  Raphael  a  great 
painter,  Each  a  great  musician — and  the  critics,  lacking  a 
standard  by  which  to  separate  good  art  from  bad,  not  only 
consider  these  artists  great,  but  regard  all  their  productions 
as  admirable  and  worthy  of  imitation.  Nothing  has  contri 
buted,  and  still  contributes,  so  much  to  the  perversion  of  art 
as  these  authorities  set  up  by  criticism.  A  man  produces  a 

WHAT  IS  ART?  121 

work  of  art,  like  every  true  artist  expressing  in  his  own 
peculiar  manner  a  feeling  he  has  experienced.  Most  people 
are  infected  by  the  artist's  feeling ;  and  his  work  becomes 
known.  Then  criticism,  discussing  the  artist,  says  that  the 
work  is  not  bad,  but  all  the  same  the  artist  is  not  a  Dante, 
nor  a  Shakespear,  nor  a  Goethe,  nor  a  Raphael,  nor  what 
Beethoven  was  in  his  last  period.  And  the  young  artist 
sets  to  work  to  copy  those  who  are  held  up  for  his  imitation, 
and  he  produces  not  only  feeble  works,  but  false  works, 
counterfeits  of  art. 

Thus,  for  instance,  our  Pushkin  writes  his  short  poems, 
Evyeniy  Oner/in,  TJie  Gipsies,  and  his  stories — works  all 
varying  in  quality,  but  all  true  art.  But  then,  under  the 
influence  of  false  criticism  extolling  Shakespear,  he  writes 
Boris  Godunoff,  a  cold,  brain-spun  work,  and  this  production 
is  lauded  by  the  critics,  set  up  as  a  model,  and  imitations  of 
it  appear :  Minin  by  Ostrovsky,  and  Tsar  Boris  by  Alexee 
Tolstoy,  and  such  imitations  of  imitations  as  crowd  all  litera 
tures  with  insignificant  productions.  The  chief  harm  done 
by  the  critics  is  this,  that  themselves  lacking  the  capacity  to 
be  infected  by  art  (and  that  is  the  characteristic  of  all 
critics ;  for  did  they  not  lack  this  they  could  not  attempt 
the  impossible — the  interpretation  of  works  of  art),  they 
pay  most  attention  to,  and  eulogise,  brain-spun,  invented 
works,  and  set  these  up  as  models  worthy  of  imitation. 
That  is  the  reason  they  so  confidently  extol,  in  literature, 
the  Greek  tragedians,  Dante,  Tasso,  Milton,  Shakespear, 
Goethe  (almost  all  he  wrote),  and,  among  recent  writers, 
Zola  and  Ibsen ;  in  music,  Beethoven's  last  period,  and 
Wagner.  To  justify  their  praise  of  these  brain-spun, 
invented  works,  they  devise  entire  theories  (of  which  the 
famous  theory  of  beauty  is  one) ;  and  not  only  dull  but 
also  talented  people  compose  works  in  strict  deference  to 
these  theories  ;  and  often  even  real  artists,  doing  violence  to 
their  genius,  submit  to  them. 

122  WHAT  IS  ART? 

Every  false  work  extolled  by  the  critics  serves  as  a 
door  through  which  the  hypocrites  of  art  at  once 
crowd  in. 

It  is  solely  due  to  the  critics,  who  in  our  times  still  praise 
rude,  savage,  and,  for  us,  often  meaningless  works  of  the 
ancient  Greeks :  Sophocles,  Euripides,  ^Eschylus,  and  espe 
cially  Aristophanes;  or,  of  modern  writers,  Dante,  Tasso, 
Milton,  Shakespear;  in  painting,  all  of  Raphael,  all  of 
Michael  Angelo,  including  his  absurd  "Last  Judgment";  in 
music,  the  whole  of  Bach,  and  the  whole  of  Beethoven, 
including  his  last  period, — thanks  only  to  them,  have  the 
Ibsens,  Maeterlincks,  Verlaines,  Mallarmes,  Puvis  de  Cha- 
vannes,  Klingers,  Bocklins,  Stucks,  Schneiders ;  in  music, 
the  Wagners,  Liszts,  Berliozes,  Brahmses,  and  Richard 
Strausses,  etc.,  and  all  that  immense  mass  of  good-for- 
nothing  imitators  of  these  imitators,  become  possible  in 
our  day. 

As  a  good  illustration  of  the  harmful  influence  of  criticism, 
take  its  relation  to  Beethoven.  Among  his  innumerable 
hasty  productions  written  to  order,  there  are,  notwithstand 
ing  their  artificiality  of  form,  works  of  true  art.  But  he 
grows  deaf,  cannot  hear,  and  begins  to  write  invented, 
unfinished  works,  which  are  consequently  often  meaningless 
and  musically  unintelligible.  I  know  that  musicians  can 
imagine  sounds  vividly  enough,  and  can  almost  hear  what 
they  read,  but  imaginary  sounds  can  never  replace  real  ones, 
and  every  composer  must  hear  his  production  in  order  to 
perfect  it.  Beethoven,  however,  could  not  hear,  could  not 
perfect  his  work,  and  consequently  published  productions 
which  are.  artistic  ravings.  But  criticism,  having  once 
acknowledged  him  to  be  a  great  composer,  seizes  on  just 
these  abnormal  works  with  special  gusto,  and  searches  for 
extraordinary  beauties  in  them.  And,  to  justify  its  lauda 
tions  (perverting  the  very  meaning  of  musical  art),  it 
attributed  to  music  the  property  of  describing  what  it  cannot 

WHAT  IS  ART?  123 

describe.  And  imitators  appear — an  innumerable  host  of 
imitators  of  these  abnormal  attempts  at  artistic  productions 
which  Beethoven  wrote  when  he  was  deaf. 

Then  Wagner  appears,  who  at  first  in  critical  articles 
praises  just  Beethoven's  last  period,  and  connects  this  music 
with  Schopenhauer's  mystical  theory  that  music  is  the  ex 
pression  of  Will — not  of  separate  manifestations  of  will 
objectivised  on  various  planes,  but  of  its  very  essence — 
which  is  in  itself  as  absurd  as  this  music  of  Beethoven. 
And  afterwards  he  composes  music  of  his  own  on  this 
theory,  in  conjunction  with  another  still  more  erroneous 
system  of  the  union  of  all  the  arts.  After  Wagner  yet 
new  imitators  appear,  diverging  yet  further  from  art : 
Brahms,  Richard  Strauss,  and  others. 

Such  are  the  results  of  criticism.  But  the  third  condition 
of  the  perversion  of  art,  namely,  art  schools,  is  almost  more 
harmful  still. 

.  As  soon  as  art  became,  not  art  for  the  whole  people  but 
for  a  rich  class,  it  became  a  profession ;  as  soon  as  it  became 
a  profession,  methods  were  devised  to  teach  it ;  people 
who  chose  this  profession  of  art  began  to  learn  these 
methods,  and  thus  professional  schools  sprang  up :  classes 
of  rhetoric  or  literature  in  the  public  schools,  academics 
for  painting,  conservatoires  for  music,  schools  for  dramatic 

In  these  schools  art  is  taught !  But  art  is  the  transmission 
to  others  of  a  special  feeling  experienced  by  the  artist. 
How  can  this  be  taught  in  schools  1 

No  school  can  evoke  feeling  in  a  man,  and  still  less  can 
it  teach  him  IIOAV  to  manifest  it  in  the  one  particular  manner 
natural  to  him  alone.  But  the  essence  of  art  lies  in  these 

The  one  thing  these  schools  can  teach  is  how  to  transmit 
feelings  experienced  by  other  artists  in  the  way  those  other 
artists  transmitted  them.  And  this  is  just  what  the 

124  WHAT  IS  ART? 

professional  schools  do  teach ;  and  such  instruction  not  only 
does  not  assist  the  spread  of  true  art,  but,  on  the  contrary, 
by  diffusing  counterfeits  of  art,  does  more  than  anything 
else  to  deprive  people  of  the  capacity  to  understand 
true  art. 

In  literary  art  people  are  taught  how,  without  having 
anything  they  wish  to  say,  to  write  a  many-paged  com 
position  on  a  theme  about  which  .they  have  never  thought, 
and,  moreover,  to  write  it  so  that  it  should  resemble  the 
work  of  an  author  admitted  to  be  celebrated.  This  is  taught 
in  schools. 

In  painting  the  chief  training  consists  in  learning  to  draw 
and  paint  from  copies  and  models,  the  naked  body  chiefly 
(the  very  thing  that  is  never  seen,  and  which  a  man 
occupied  with  real  art  hardly  ever  has  to  depict),  and  to 
draw  and  paint  as  former  masters  drew  and  painted.  The 
composition  of  pictures  is  taught  by  giving  out  themes  similar 
to  those  which  have  been  treated  by  former  acknowledged 

So  also  in  dramatic  schools,  the  pupils  are  taught  to 
recite  monologues  just  as  tragedians,  considered  celebrated, 
declaimed  them. 

It  is  the  same  in  music.  The  whole  theory  of  music  is 
nothing  but  a  disconnected  repetition  of  those  methods 
which  the  acknowledged:  masters  of  composition  made 
use  of. 

I  have  elsewhere  quoted  the  profound  remark  of  the 
Russian  artist  Bruloff  on  art,  but  I  cannot  here  refrain  from 
repeating  it,  because  nothing  better  illustrates  what  can 
and  what  can  not  be  taught  in  the  schools.  Once  when 
correcting  a  pupil's  study,  Bruloff  just  touched  it  in  a  few 
places,  and  the  poor  dead  study  immediately  became  ani 
mated.  "  Why,  you  only  touched  it  a  wee  bit,  and  it  is  quite 
another  thing  ! "  said  one  of  the  pupils.  "  Art  begins  where 
the  wee  bit  begins,"  replied  Bruloff,  indicating  by  these 

WHAT  IS  ART?  .23J2< 

words  just  what  is  most  characteristic  of  art.  The  remark 
is  true  of  all  the  arts,  but  its  justice  is  particularly  noticeable 
in  the  performance  of  music.  That  musical  execution  should 
be  artistic,  should  be  art,  i.e.  should  infect,  three  chief  con 
ditions  must  be  observed, — there  are  many  others  needed  for 
musical  perfection ;  the  transition  from  one  sound  to  another 
must  be  interrupted  or  continuous ;  the  sound  must  increase 
or  dimmish  steadily ;  it  must  be  blended  with  one  and  not 
with  another  sound ;  the  sound  must  have  this  or  that 
timbre,  and  much  besides, — but  take  the  three  chief  con 
ditions  :  the  pitch,  the  time,  and  the  strength  of  the  sound. 
Musical  execution  is  only  then  art,  only  then  infects,  when 
the  sound  is  neither  higher  nor  lower  than  it  should  be, 
that  is,  when  exactly  the  infinitely  small  centre  of  the 
required  note  is  taken ;  when  that  note  is  continued  exactly 
as  long  as  is  needed ;  and  when  the  strength  of  the  sound 
is  neither  more  nor  less  than  is  required.  The  slightest 
deviation  of  pitch  in  either  direction,  the  slightest  increase 
or  decrease  in  time,  or  the  slightest  strengthening  or 
weakening  of  the  sound  beyond  what  is  needed,  destroys 
the  perfection  and,  consequently,  the  infectiousness  of 
the  work.  So  that  the  feeling  of  infection  by  the  art  of 
music,  which  seems  so  simple  and  so  easily  obtained,  is 
a  thing  we  receive  only  when  the  performer  finds  those 
infinitely  minute  degrees  which  are  necessary  to  perfection 
in  music.  It  is  the  same  in  all  arts :  a  wee  bit  lighter, 
a  wee  bit  darker,  a  wee  bit  higher,  lower,  to  the  right  or 
the  left  —  in  painting ;  a  wee  bit  weaker  or  stronger  in 
intonation,  or  a  wee  bit  sooner  or  later — in  dramatic  art ; 
a  wee  bit  omitted,  over-emphasised,  or  exaggerated  —  in 
poetry,  and  there  is  no  contagion.  Infection  is  only 
obtained  when  an  artist  finds  those  infinitely  minute  degrees 
of  which  a  work  of  art  consists,  and  only  to  the  extent  to 
which  he  finds  them.  And  it  is  quite  impossible  to  teach 
people  by  external  means  to  find  these  minute  degrees  :  they 

ip  WHAT  IS  ART? 


can  only  be  found  when  a  man  yields  to  his  feeling.  No 
instruction  can  make  a  dancer  catch  just  the  tact  of  the 
music,  or  a  singer  or  a  fiddler  take  exactly  the  infinitely 
minute  centre  of  his  note,  or  a  sketcher  draw  of  all  possible 
lines  the  only  right  one,  or  a  poet  find  the  only  meet  arrange 
ment  of  the  only  suitable  words.  All  this  is  found  only 
by  feeling.  And  therefore  schools  may  teach  what  is  neces 
sary  in  order  to  produce  something  resembling  art,  but  not 
art  itself. 

The  teaching  of  the  schools  stops  there  where  the  wee 
bit  begins — consequently  where  art  begins. 

Accustoming  people  to  something  resembling  art,  dis 
accustoms  them  to  the  comprehension  of  real  art.  And  that 
is  how  it  comes  about  that  none  are  more  dull  to  art  than 
those  who  have  passed  through  the  professional  schools  and 
been  most  successful  in  them.  Professional  schools  produce 
an  hypocrisy  of  art  precisely  ,akin  to  that  hypocrisy  of 
religion  which  is  produced  by  theological  colleges  for 
training  priests,  pastors,  and  religious  teachers  generally. 
As  it  is  impossible  in  a  school  to  train  a  man  so  as  to 
make  a  religious  teacher  of  him,  so  it  is  impossible  to  teach 
a  man  how  to  become  an  artist. 

Art  schools  are  thus  doubly  destructive  of  art :  first,  in 
that  they  destroy  the  capacity  to  produce  real  art  in  those 
who  have  the  misfortune  to  enter  them  and  go  through  a 
7  or  8  years'  course;  secondly,  in  that  they  generate 
enormous  quantities  of  that  counterfeit  art  which  perverts 
the  taste  of  the  masses  and  overflows  our  world.  In 
order  that  born  artists  may  know  the  methods  of  the 
various  arts  elaborated  by  former  artists,  there  should 
exist  in  all  elementary  schools  such  classes  for  drawing 
and  music  (singing)  that,  after  passing  through  them, 
every  talented  scholar  may,  by  using  existing  models 
accessible  to  all,  be  able  to  perfect  himself  in  his  art 

WHAT  IS  ART?  127 

These  three  conditions — the  professionalisation  of  artists, 
art  criticism,  and  art  schools — have   had  this  effect :  that    ; 
most  people  in  our  times  are  quite  unable  even  to  under 
stand  what  art  is,  and  accept  as  art  the  grossest  counterfeits 
of  it, 


To  what  an  extent  people  of  our  circle  and  time  have  lost  the 
capacity  to  receive  real  art,  and  have  become  accustomed 
to  accept  as  art  things  that  have  nothing  in  common  with  it, 
is  best  seen  from  the  works  of  Richard  Wagner,  which  have 
latterly  come  to  be  more  and  more  esteemed,  not  only  by 
the  Germans  but  also  by  the  French  and  the  English,  as  the 
very  highest  art,  revealing  new  horizons  to  us. 

The  peculiarity  of  Wagner's  music,  as  is  known,  consists 
in  this,  that  he  considered  that  music  should  serve  poetry, 
expressing  all  the  shades  of  a  poetical  work. 

The  union  of  the  drama  with  music,  devised  in  the 
fifteenth  century  in  Italy  for  the  revival  of  what  they 
imagined  to  have  been  the  ancient  Greek  drama  with 
music,  is  an  artificial  form  which  had,  and  has,  success 
only  among  the  upper  classes,  and  that  only  when  gifted 
composers,  such  as  Mozart,  Weber,  Rossini,  and  others, 
drawing  inspiration  from  a  dramatic  subject,  yielded  freely 
to  the  inspiration  and  subordinated  the  text  to  the  music, 
so  that  in  their  operas  the  important  thing  to  the  audience 
was  merely  the  music  on  a  certain  text,  and  not  the  text 
at  all,  which  latter,  even  when  it  was  utterly  absurd,  as, 
f,or  instance,  in  the  Magic  Flute,  still  did  not  prevent  the 
music  from  producing  an  artistic  impression. 

Wagner  wishes  to  correct  the  opera  by  letting  music 
submit  to  the  demands  of  poetry  and  unite  with  it.  But 
each  art  has  its  own  definite  realm,  which  is  not  identical 
with  the  realm  of  other  arts,  but  merely  comes  in 


WHAT  IS  ART?  129 

contact  with  them ;  and  therefore,  if  the  manifestation  of, 
I  will  not  say  several,  but  even  of  two  arts — the  dramatic 
and  the  musical — be  united  in  one  complete  production, 
then  the  demands  of  the  one  art  will  make  it  impossible 
to  fulfil  the  demands  of  the  other,  as  has  always  occurred  in 
the  ordinary  operas,  where  the  dramatic  art  has  submitted  to, 
or  rather  yielded  place  to,  the  musical.  Wagner  wishes  that 
musical  art  should  submit  to  dramatic  art,  and  that  both 
should  appear  in  full  strength.  But  this  is  impossible,  for 
every  work  of  art,  if  it  be  a  true  one,  is  an  expression  of 
intimate  feelings  of  the  artist,  which  are  quite  exceptional,  and 
not  like  anything  else.  Such  is  a  musical  production,  and  such 
is  a  dramatic  work,  if  they  be  true  art.  And  therefore,  in 
order  that  a  production  in  the  one  branch  of  art  should 
coincide  with  a  production  in  the  other  branch,  it  is  necessary 
that  the  impossible  should  happen  :  that  two  works  from 
different  realms  of  art  should  be  absolutely  exceptional, 
unlike  anything  that  existed  before,  and  yet  should  coincide, 
and  be  exactly  alike. 

And  this  cannot  be,  just  as  there  cannot  be  two  men,  or 
even  two  leaves  on  a  tree,  exactly  alike.  Still  less  can  two 
works  from  different  realms  of  art,  the  musical  and  the 
literary,  be  absolutely  alike.  If  they  coincide,  then  either 
one  is  a  work  of  art  and  the  other  a  counterfeit,  or  both  are 
counterfeits.  Two  live  leaves  cannot  be  exactly  alike,  but 
two  artificial  leaves  may  be.  And  so  it  is  with  works  of 
art.  They  can  only  coincide  completely  when  neither  the  - 
one  nor  the  other  is  art,  but  only  cunningly  devised 
semblances  of  it. 

If  poetry  and  music  may  be  joined,  as  occurs  in  hymns, 
songs,  and  romances — (though  even  in  these  the  music  does 
not  follow  the  changes  of  each  verse  of  the  text,  as  Wagner 
wants  to,  but  the  song  and  the  music  merely  produce  a 
coincident  effect  on  the  mind) — this  occurs  only  because 
lyrical  poetry  and  music  have,  to  some  extent,  one  and  the 

130  WHAT  IS  ART? 

same  aim :  to  produce  a  mental  condition,  and  the  condi 
tions  produced  by  lyrical  poetry  and  by  music  can,  more  or 
less,  coincide.  But  even  in  these  conjunctions  the  centre  of 
gravity  always  lies  in  one  of  the  two  productions,  so  that 
it  is  one  of  them  that  produces  the  artistic  impression  while 
the  other  remains  unregarded.  And  still  less  is  it  possible 
for  such  union  to  exist  between  epic  or  dramatic  poetry  and 

Moreover,  one  of  the  chief  conditions  of  artistic  creation 
is  the  complete  freedom  of  the  artist  from  every  kind  of 
preconceived  demand.  And  the  necessity  of  adjusting  his 
musical  work  to  a  work  from  another  realm  of  art  is  a  pre 
conceived  demand  of  such  a  kind  as  to  destroy  all  possibility 
of  creative  power ;  and  therefore  works  of  this  kind,  adjusted 
to  one  another,  are,  and  must  be,  as  has  always  happened, 
not  works  of  art  but  only  imitations  of  art,  like  the  music 
of  a  melodrama,  signatures  to  pictures,  illustrations,  and 
librettos  to  operas. 

And  such  are  Wagner's  productions.  And  a  confirma 
tion  of  this  is  to  be  seen  in  the  fact  that  Wagner's  new 
music  lacks  the  chief  characteristic  of  every  true  work 
of  art,  namely,  such  entirety  and  completeness  that  the 
smallest  alteration  in  its  form  would  disturb  the  meaning 
of  the  whole  work.  In  a  true  work  of  art — poem,  drama, 
picture,  song,  or  symphony — it  is  impossible  to  extract  one  line, 
one  scene,  one  figure,  or  one  bar  from  its  place  and  put  it  in 
another,  without  infringing  the  significance  of  the  whole 
work;  just  as  it  is  impossible,  without  infringing  the  life 

an  organic  being,  to  extract  an  organ  from  one  place  and 
insert  it  in  another.  But  in  the  music  of  Wagner's  last 
period,  with  the  exception  of  certain  parts  of  little  importance 
which  have  an  independent  musical  meaning,  it  is  possible 
to  make  all  kinds  of  transpositions,  putting  what  was  in 
front  behind,  and  vice  versa,  without  altering  the  musical 
sense.  And  the  reason  why  these  transpositions  do  not 

WHAT  IS  ART?  131 

alter  the  sense  of  Wagner's  music  is  because  the  sense  lies 
in  the  words  and  not  in  the  music, 

The  musical  score  of  Wagner's  later  operas  is  like  what 
the  result  would  be  should  one  of  those  versifiers — of  whom 
there  are  now  many,  with  tongues  so  broken  that  they  can 
write  verses  on  any  theme  to  any  rhymes  in  any  rhythm, 
which  sound  as  if  they  had  a  meaning — conceive  the  idea 
of  illustrating  by  his  verses  some  symphony  or  sonata  of 
Beethoven,  or  some  ballade  of  Chopin,  in  the  following 
manner.  To  the  first  bars,  of  one  character,  he  writes 
verses  corresponding  in  his  opinion  to  those  first  bars. 
Next  come  some  bars  of  a  different  character,  and  he  also 
writes  verses  corresponding  in  his  opinion  to  them,  but  with 
no  internal  connection  with  the  first  verses,  and,  moreover, 
without  rhymes  and  without  rhythm.  Such  a  production, 
without  the  music,  would  be  exactly  parallel  in  poetry  to 
what  Wagner's  operas  are  in  music,  if  heard  without  the 

But  Wagner  is  not  only  a  musician,  he  is  also  a  poet, 
or  both  together ;  and  therefore,  to  judge  of  Wagner,  one 
must  know  his  poetry  also — that  same  poetry  which  the 
music  has  to  subserve.  The  chief  poetical  production  of 
Wagner  is  The  Nibduncjs  Ring.  This  work  has  attained 
such  enormous  importance  in  our  time,  and  has  such  influ 
ence  on  all  that  now  professes  to  be  art,  that  it  is  neces 
sary  for  everyone  to-day  to  have  some  idea  of  it.  I  have 
carefully  read  through  the  four  booklets  which  contain  this 
work,  and  have  drawn  up  a  brief  summary  of  it,  which  I 
give  in  Appendix  III.  I  would  strongly  advise  the  reader 
(if  he  has  not  perused  the  poem  itself,  which  would  be 
the  best  thing  to  do)  at  least  to  read  my  account  of  it, 
so  as  to  have  an  idea  of  this  extraordinary  work.  It  is  a 
model  work  of  counterfeit  art,  so  gross  as  to  be  even 

But  we  are  told  that  it  is  impossible  to  judge  of  Wagner's 

132  WHAT  IS  ART? 

works  without  seeing  them  on  the  stage.  The  Second  Day 
of  this  drama,  which,  as  I  was  told,  is  the  best  part  of  the 
whole  work,  was  given  in  Moscow  last  winter,  and  I  went 
to  see  the  performance. 

When  I  arrived  the  enormous  theatre  was  already  filled 
from  top  to  bottom.  There  were  Grand-Dukes,  and  the 
flower  of  the  aristocracy,  of  the  merchant  class,  of  the 
learned,  and  of  the  middle-class  official  public.  Most  of 
them  held  the  libretto,  fathoming  its  meaning.  Musicians 
— some  of  them  elderly,  grey-haired  men — followed  the 
music,  score  in  hand.  Evidently  the  performance  of  this 
work  was  an  event  of  importance. 

I  was  rather  late,  but  I  was  told  that  the  short  prelude, 
with  which  the  act  begins,  was  of  little  importance,  and 
that  it  did  not  matter  having  missed  it.  When  I  arrived, 
an  actor  sat  on  the  stage  amid  decorations  intended  to 
represent  a  cave,  and  before  something  which  was  meant  to 
represent  a  smith's  forge.  He  was  dressed  in  trico-tightsr 
with  a  cloak  of  skins,  wore  a  wig  and  an  artificial  beard,  and 
with  white,  weak,  genteel  hands  (his  easy  movements,  and 
especially  the  shape  of  his  stomach  and  his  lack  of  muscle 
revealed  the  actor)  beat  an  impossible  sword  with  an 
unnatural  hammer  in  a  way  in  which  no  one  ever  uses 
a  hammer ;  and  at  the  same  time,  opening  his  mouth 
in  a  strange  way,  he  sang  something  incomprehensible. 
The  music  of  various  instruments  accompanied  the  strange 
sounds  which  he  emitted.  From  the  libretto  one  was 
able  to  gather  that  the  actor  had  to  represent  a  powerful 
gnome,  who  lived  in  the  cave,  and  who  was  forging  a  sword 
for  Siegfried,  whom  he  had  reared.  One  could  tell 
he  was  a  gnome  by  the  fact  that  the  actor  walked 
all  the  time  bending  the  knees  of  his  trico-covered 
legs.  This  gnome,  still  opening  his  mouth  in  the  same 
strange  way,  long  continued  to  sing  or  shout.  The  music 
meanwhile  runs  over  something  strange,  like  beginnings 

WHAT  IS  ART?  133 

which  are  not  continued  and  do  not  get  finished.  From 
the  libretto  one  could  learn  that  the  gnome  is  telling 
himself  about  a  ring  which  a  giant  had  obtained,  and 
which  the  gnome  wishes  to  procure  through  Siegfried's 
aid,  while  Siegfried  wants  a  good  sword,  on  the  forging 
of  which  the  gnome  is  occupied.  After  this  conversation 
or  singing  to  himself  has  gone  on  rather  a  long  time, 
other  sounds  are  heard  in  the  orchestra,  also  like  something 
beginning  and  not  finishing,  and  another  actor  appears, 
with  a  horn  slung  over  his  shoulder,  and  accompanied  by 
a  man  running  on  all  fours  dressed  up  as  a  bear,  whom 
he  sets  at  the  smith-gnome.  The  latter  runs  away  with 
out  unbending  the  knees  of  his  trico-covered  legs.  This 
actor  with  the  horn  represented  the  hero,  Siegfried.  The 
sounds  which  were  emitted  in  the  orchestra  on  the  entrance 
of  this  actor  were  intended  to  represent  Siegfried's  character 
and  are  called  Siegfried's  leit-motiv.  And  these  sounds  are 
repeated  each  time  Siegfried  appears.  There  is  one  fixed 
combination  of  sounds,  or  leit-motiv,  for  each  character, 
and  this  leit-motiv  is  repeated  every  time  the  person  whom 
it  represents  appears ;  and  when  anyone  is  mentioned  the 
motiv  is  heard  which  relates  to  that  person.  Moreover, 
each  article  also  lias  its  own  leit-motiv  or  chord.  There 
is  a  motiv  of  the  ring,  a  motiv  of  the  helmet,  a  motiv  of 
the  apple,  a  motiv  of  fire,  spear,  sword,  water,  etc. ;  and  as 
soon  as  the  ring,  helmet,  or  apple  is  mentioned,  the  motiv 
or  chord  of  the  ring,  helmet,  or  apple  is  heard.  The  actor 
with  the  horn  opens  his  mouth  as  unnaturally  as  the  gnome, 
and  long  continues  in  a  chanting  voice  to  shout  some  words, 
and  in  a  similar  chant  Mime  (that  is  the  gnome's  name) 
answers  something  or  other  to  him.  The  meaning  of  this 
conversation  can  only  be  discovered  from  the  libretto;  and  it  is 
that  Siegfried  was  brought  up  by  the  gnome,  and  therefore, 
for  some  reason,  hates  him  and  always  wishes  to  kill  him. 
The  gnome  has  forged  a  sword  for  Siegfried,  but  Siegfried 

134  WHAT  IS  ART? 

is  dissatisfied  with  it.  From  a  ten-page  conversation  (by  the 
libretto),  lasting  half  an  hour  and  conducted  with  the  same 
strange  openings  of  the  mouth  and  chantings,  it  appears 
that  Siegfried's  mother  gave  birth  to  him  in  the  wood,  and 
that  concerning  his  father  all  that  is  known  is  that  he  had 
a  sword  which  was  broken,  the  pieces  of  which  are  in  Mime's 
possession,  and  that  Siegfried  does  not  know  fear  and  wishes 
to  go  out  of  the  wood.  Mime,  however,  does  not  want  to 
let  him  go.  During  the  conversation  the  music  never  omits, 
at  the  mention  of  father,  sword,  etc.,  to  sound  the  motive  of 
these  people  and  things.  After  these  conversations  fresh 
sounds  are  heard — those  of  the  god  Wotan — and  a  wanderer 
appears.  This  wanderer  is  the  god  Wotan.  Also  dressed 
up  in  a  wig,  and  also  in  tights,  this  god  Wotan,  standing 
in  a  stupid  pose  with  a  spear,  thinks  proper  to  recount 
what  Mime  must  have  known  before,  but  what  it  is 
necessary  to  tell  the  audience.  He  does  not  tell  it  simply, 
but  in  the  form  of  riddles  which  he  orders  himself  to  guess, 
staking  his  head  (one  does  not  know  why)  that  he  will  guess 
right.  Moreover,  whenever  the  wanderer  strikes  his  spear 
on  the  ground,  fire  comes  out  of  the  ground,  and  in  the 
orchestra  the  sounds  of  spear  and  of  fire  are  heard.  The 
orchestra  accompanies  the  conversation,  and  the  motive  of  the 
people  and  things  spoken  of  are  always  artfully  intermingled. 
Besides  this  the  music  expresses  feelings  in  the  most  naive 
manner :  the  terrible  by  sounds  in  the  bass,  the  frivolous  by 
rapid  touches  in  the  treble,  etc. 

The  riddles  have  no  meaning  except  to  tell  the  audience 
what  the  nibelungs  are,  what  the  giants  are,  what  the 
gods  are,  and  what  has  happened  before.  This  conver 
sation  also  is  chanted  with  strangely  opened  mouths  and 
continues  for  eight  libretto  pages,  and  correspondingly 
long  on  the  stage.  After  this  the  wanderer  departs,  and 
Siegfried  returns  and  talks  with  Mime  for  thirteen  pages  more. 
There  is  not  a  single  melody  the  whole  of  this  time,  but 

WHAT  IS  ART?  135 

merely  intertwinings  of  the  leit-moUve  of  the  people  and 
things  mentioned.  The  conversation  tells  that  Mime  wishes 
to  teach  Siegfried  fear,  and  that  Siegfried  does  not  know 
what  fear  is.  Having  finished  this  conversation,  Siegfried 
seizes  one  of  the  pieces  of  what  is  meant  to  represent  the 
broken  sword,  saws  it  up,  puts  it  on  what  is  meant  to 
represent  the  forge,  melts  it,  and  then  forges  it  and  sings : 
Heiho!  heiho!  heiho!  Ho!  ho!  Aha!  oho!  aha!  Heiaho! 
heiaho  !  heiaho  !  Ho  !  ho  !  Hahei !  hoho  !  hahei !  and  Act 
I.  finishes. 

As  far  as  the  question  I  had  come  to  the  theatre  to 
decide  was  concerned,  my  mind  was  fully  made  up,  as 
surely  as  on  the  question  of  the  merits  of  my  lady 
acquaintance's  novel  when  she  read  me  the  scene  between 
the  loose-haired  maiden  in  the  white  dress  and  the  hero 
with  two  white  dogs  and  a  hat  with  $  feather  a  la  Guil- 
laume  Tell. 

From  an  author  who  could  compose  such  spurious  scenes, 
outraging  all  aesthetic  feeling,  as  those  which  I  had  wit 
nessed,  there  was  nothing  to  be  hoped;  it  may  safely  be 
decided  that  all  that  such  an  author  can  write  will  be  bad, 
because  he  evidently  does  not  know  what  a  true  work  of 
art  is.  I  wished  to  leave,  but  the  friends  I  was  with 
asked  me  to  remain,  declaring  that  one  could  not  form 
an  opinion  by  that  one  act,  and  that  the  second  would  be 
better.  So  I  stopped  for  the  second  act. 

Act  II.,  night.  Afterwards  dawn.  In  general  the  whole 
piece  is  crammed  with  lights,  clouds,  moonlight,  darkness, 
magic  fires,  thunder,  etc. 

The  scene  represents  a  wood,  and  in  the  wood  there  is  a 
cave.  At  the  entrance  of  the  cave  sits  a  third  actor  in 
tights,  representing  another  gnome.  It  dawns.  Enter  the 
god  Wotan,  again  with  a  spear,  and  again  in  the  guise  of  a 
wanderer.  Again  his  sounds,  together  with  fresh  sounds  ot 
the  deepest  bass  that  can  be  produced.  These  latter  indicate 

136  WHAT  IS  ART? 

that  the  dragon  is  speaking.  Wotan  awakens  the  dragon. 
The  same  bass  sounds  are  repeated,  growing  yet  deeper  and 
deeper.  First  the  dragon  says,  "I  want  to  sleep,"  but  after 
wards  he  crawls  out  of  the  cave.  The  dragon  is  represented 
by  two  men  ;  it  is  dressed  in  a  green,  scaly  skin,  waves  a  tail 
at  one  end,  while  at  the  other  it  opens  a  kind  of  crocodile's 
jaw  that  is  fastened  on,  and  from  which  flames  appear.  The 
dragon  (who  is  meant  to  be  dreadful,  and  may  appear  so 
to  five-year-old  children)  speaks  some  words  in  a  terribly 
bass  voice.  This  is  all  so  stupid,  so  like  what  is  done  in  a 
booth  at  a  fair,  that  it  is  surprising  that  people  over  seven 
years  of  age  can  witness  it  seriously ;  yet  thousands  of 
quasi-cultured  people  sit  and  attentively  hear  and  see  it,  and 
are  delighted. 

Siegfried,  with  his  horn,  reappears,  as  does  Mime  also.  In 
the  orchestra  the  sounds  denoting  them  are  emitted,  and 
they  talk  about  whether  Siegfried  does  or  does  not  know 
what  fear  is.  Mime  goes  away,  and  a  scene  commences  which 
is  intended  to  be  most  poetical.  Siegfried,  in  his  tights,  lies 
down  in  a  would-be  beautiful  pose,  and  alternately  keeps 
silent  and  talks  to  himself.  He  ponders,  listens  to  the  song 
of  birds,  and  wishes  to  imitate  them.  For  this  purpose 
he  cuts  a  reed  with  his  sword  and  makes  a  pipe.  The  dawn 
grows  brighter  and  brighter ;  the  birds  sing.  Siegfried  tries 
to  imitate  the  birds.  In  the  orchestra  is  heard  the  imitation 
of  birds,  alternating  with  sounds  corresponding  to  the  words 
he  speaks.  But  Siegfried  does  not  succeed  with  his  pipe- 
playing,  so  he  plays  on  his  horn  instead.  This  scene  is 
unendurable.  Of  music,  i.e.  of  art  serving  as  a  means  to 
transmit  a  state  of  mind  experienced  by  the  author,  there  is 
not  even  a  suggestion.  There  is  something  that  is  absolutely 
unintelligible  musically.  In  a  musical  sense  a  hope  is  con 
tinually  experienced,  followed  by  disappointment,  as  if  a 
musical  thought  were  commenced  only  to  be  broken  off.  If 
there  are  something  like  musical  commencements,  these 

WHAT  IS  ART  ?  137 

commencements  are  so  short,  so  encumbered  with  complica 
tions  of  harmony  and  orchestration  and  with  effects  of  con 
trast,  are  so  obscure  and  unfinished,  and  what  is  happening 
on  the  stage  meanwhile  is  so  abominably  false,  that  it  is 
difficult  even  to  perceive  these  musical  snatches,  let  alone  to 
be  infected  by  them.  Above  all,  from  the  very  beginning 
to  the  very  end,  and  in  each  note,  the  author's  purpose  is  so 
audible  and  visible,  that  one  sees  and  hears  neither  Siegfried 
nor  the  birds,  but  only  a  limited,  self-opinionated  German 
of  bad  taste  and  bad  style,  who  has  a  most  false  conception  of 
poetry,  and  who,  in  the  rudest  and  most  primitive  manner, 
wishes  to  transmit  to  me  these  false  and  mistaken  con 
ceptions  of  his. 

Everyone  knows  the  feeling  of  distrust  and  resistance 
which  is  always  evoked  by  an  author's  evident  predeter 
mination.  A  narrator  need  only  say  in  advance,  Prepare 
to  cry  or  to  laugh,  and  you  are  sure  neither  to  cry  nor  to 
laugh.  But  when  you  see  that  an  author  prescribes  emotion 
at  what  is  not  touching  but  only  laughable  or  disgusting, 
.and  when  you  see,  moreover,  that  the  author  is  fully  assured 
that  he  has  captivated  you,  a  painfully  tormenting  feeling 
results,  similar  to  what  one  would  feel  if  an  old,  deformed 
woman  put  on  a  ball-dress  and  smilingly  coquetted  before 
you,  confident  of  your  approbation.  This  impression  was 
strengthened  by  the  fact  that  around  me  I  saw  a  crowd  of 
three  thousand  people,  who  not  only  patiently  witnessed  all 
this  absurd  nonsense,  but  even  considered  it  their  duty  to  be 
delighted  with  it. 

I  somehow  managed  to  sit  out  the  next  scene  also,  in 
which  the  monster  appears,  to  the  accompaniment  of  his 
bass  notes  intermingled  with  the  motiv  of  Siegfried;  but 
after  the  fight  with  the  monster,  and  all  the  roars,  fires,  and 
sword-wavings,  I  could  stand  no  more  of  it,  and  escaped  from 
the  theatre  with  a  feeling  of  repulsion  which,  even  now,  I 
•cannot  forget. 

138  WHAT  IS  ART? 

Listening  to  this  opera,  I  involuntarily  thought  of  a 
respected,  wise,  educated  country  labourer,  —  one,  for 
instance,  of  those  wise  and  truly  religious  men  whom  I 
know  among  the  peasants, — and  I  pictured  to  myself  the 
terrible  perplexity  such  a  man  would  be  in  were  he  to 
witness  what  I  was  seeing  that  evening. 

What  would  he  think  if  he  knew  of  all  the  labour  spent 
on  such  a  performance,  and  saw  that  audience,  those  great 
ones  of  the  earth, — old,  bald-headed,  grey-bearded  men, 
whom  he  had  been  accustomed  to  respect, — sit  silent  and 
attentive,  listening  to  and  looking  at  all  these  stupidities  for 
five  hours  on  end  1  Not  to  speak  of  an  adult  labourer,  one 
can  hardly  imagine  even  a  child  of  over  seven  occupying 
himself  with  such  a  stupid,  incoherent  fairy  tale. 

And  yet  an  enormous  audience,  the  cream  of  the  cultured 
upper  classes,  sits  out  five  hours  of  this  insane  performance, 
and  goes  away  imagining  that  by  paying  tribute  to  this 
nonsense  it  has  acquired  a  fresh  right  to  esteem  itself 
advanced  and  enlightened. 

I  speak  of  the  Moscow  public.  But  what  is  the  Moscow 
public  1  It  is  but  a  hundredth  part  of  that  public  which, 
while  considering  itself  most  highly  enlightened,  esteems  it 
a  merit  to  have  so  lost  the  capacity  of  being  infected  by  art, 
that  not  only  can  it  witness  this  stupid  sham  without  being 
revolted,  but  can  even  take  delight  in  it. 

In  Eayreuth,  where  these  performances  were  first  given, 
people  who  consider  themselves  finely  cultured  assembled 
from  the  ends  of  the  earth,  spent,  say  £100  each,  to  see 
this  performance,  and  for  four  days  running  they  went  to 
see  and  hear  this  nonsensical  rubbish,  sitting  it  out  for  six 
hours  each  day. 

But  why  did  people  go,  and  why  do  they  still  go  to  these 
performances,  and  why  do  they  admire  them  ?  The  question 
naturally  presents  itself :  How  is  the  success  of  Wagner's 
works  to  be  explained  ? 

WHAT  IS  ART?  139 

That  success  I  explain  to  myself  in  this  way  :  thanks 
to  his  exceptional  position  in  having  at  his  disposal  the 
resources  of  a  king,  Wagner  was  able  to  command  all 
the  methods  for  counterfeiting  art  which  have  been 
developed  by  long  usage,  and,  employing  these  methods 
with  great  ability,  he  produced  a  model  work  of  counter 
feit  art.  The  reason  why  I  have  selected  his  work  for  my 
Illustration  is,  that  in  no  other  counterfeit  of  art  known  to 
me  are  all  the  methods  by  which  art  is  counterfeited — 
namely,  borrowings,  imitation,  effects,  and  interestingness 
— so  ably  and  powerfully  united. 

From  the  subject,  borrowed  from  antiquity,  to  the  clouds 
and  the  risings  of  the  sun  and  moon,  Wagner,  in  this  work, 
has  made  use  of  all  that  is  considered  poetical.  We  have 
here  the  sleeping  beauty,  and  nymphs,  and  subterranean 
fires,  and  gnomes,  and  battles,  and  swords,  and  love,  and 
incest,  and  a  monster,  and  singing-birds  :  the  whole  arsenal 
of  the  poetical  is  brought  into  action. 

Moreover,  everything  is  imitative  :  the  decorations  are 
imitated  and  the  costumes  are  imitated.  All  is  just  as, 
according  to  the  data  supplied  by  archaeology,  they  would 
have  been  in  antiquity.  The  very  sounds  are  imitative,  for 
Wagner,  who  was  not  destitute  of  musical  talent,  invented 
just  such  sounds  as  imitate  the  strokes  of  a  hammer,  the 
hissing  of  molten  iron,  the  singing  of  birds,  etc. 

Furthermore,  in  this  work  everything  is  in  the  highest 
degree  striking  in  its  effects  and  in  its  peculiarities :  its 
monsters,  its  magic  fires,  and  its  scenes  under  water ;  the 
darkness  in  which  the  audience  sit,  the  invisibility  of  the 
orchestra,  and  the  hitherto  unemployed  combinations  of 

And  besides,  it  is  all  interesting.  The  interest  lies  not 
only  in  the  question  who  will  kill  whom,  and  who  will 
marry  whom,  and  who  is  whose  son,  and  what  will  happen 
next1? — the  interest  lies  also  in  the  relation  of  the  music 

140  WHAT  IS  ART? 

to  the  text.  The  rolling  waves  of  the  Ehine — now  how 
is  that  to  be  expressed  in  music  ?  An  evil  gnome  appears 
— how  is  the  music  to  express  an  evil  gnome? — and  how 
is  it  to  express  the  sensuality  of  this  gnome?  How  will 
bravery,  fire,  or  apples  be  expressed  in  music?  How  are 
the  leit-motive  of  the  people  speaking  to  be  interwoven 
with  the  leit-motive  of  the  people  and  objects  about  whom 
they  speak?  Besides,  the  music  has  a  further  interest. 
It  diverges  from  all  formerly  accepted  laws,  and  most 
unexpected  and  totally  new  modulations  crop  up  (as  is 
not  only  possible  but  even  easy  in  music  having  no  inner 
laAv  of  its  being) ;  the  dissonances  are  new,  and  are  allowed 
in  a  new  way — and  this,  too,  is  interesting. 

And  it  is  this  poeticality,  imitativeness,  effectfulness,  and 
interestingness  which,  thanks  to  the  peculiarities  of  Wagner's 
talent  and  to  the  advantageous  position  in  which  he  was 
placed,  are  in  these  productions  carried  to  the  highest  pitch 
of  perfection,  that  so  act  on  the  spectator,  hypnotising  him 
as  one  would  be  hypnotised  who  should  listen  for  several 
consecutive  hours  to  the  ravings  of  a  maniac  pronounced 
with  great  oratorical  power. 

People  say,  "You  cannot  judge  without  having  seen 
Wagner  performed  at  Bayreuth :  in  the  dark,  where  the 
orchestra  is  out  of  sight  concealed  under  the  stage,  and 
where  the  performance  is  brought  to  the  highest  perfec 
tion."  And  this  just  proves  that  we  have  here  no  question 
of  art,  but  one  of  hypnotism.  It  is  just  what  the  spiritu 
alists  say.  To  convince  you  of  the  reality  of  their  appari 
tions,  they  usually  say,  "  You  cannot  judge ;  you  must  try 
it,  be  present  at  several  seances,"  i.e.  come  and  sit  silent 
in  the  dark  for  hours  together  in  the  same  room  with 
semi-sane  people,  and  repeat  this  some  ten  times  over,  and 
you  shall  see  all  that  we  see. 

Yes,  naturally !  Only  place  yourself  in  such  conditions, 
and  you  may  see  what  you  will.  But  this  can  be  still  more 

WHAT  IS  ART?  143 

quickly  attained  by  getting  drunk  or  smoking  opium.  It 
is  the  same  when  listening  to  an  opera  of  Wagner's.  Sit 
in  the  dark  for  four  days  in  company  with  people  who 
are  not  quite  normal,  and,  through  the  auditory  nerves, 
subject  your  brain  to  the  strongest  action  of  the  sounds 
best .  adapted  to  excite  it,  and  you  will  no  doubt  be  reduced 
to  an  abnormal  condition  and  be  enchanted  by  absurdities. 
But  to  attain  this  end  you  do  not  even  need  four  days ; 
the  five  hours  during  which  one  "day"  is  enacted,  as  in 
Moscow,  are  quite  enough.  Nor  are  five  hours  needed ; 
even  one  hour  is  enough  for  people  who  have  no  clear 
conception  of  what  art  should  be,  and  who  have  come  to 
the  conclusion  in  advance  that  what  they  are  going  to  see 
is  excellent,  and  that  indifference  or  dissatisfaction  with 
this  work  will  serve  as  a  proof  of  their  inferiority  and 
lack  of  culture. 

I  observed  the  audience  present  at  this  representation. 
The  people  who  led  the  whole  audience  and  gave  the  tone  to 
it  were  those  who  had  previously  been  hypnotised,  and  who- 
again  succumbed  to  the  hypnotic  influence  to  which  they 
were  accustomed.  These  hypnotised  people,  being  in  an 
abnormal  condition,  were  perfectly  enraptured.  Moreover, 
all  the  art  critics,  who  lack  the  capacity  to  be  infected  by 
art  and  therefore  always  especially  prize  works  like  Wagner's 
opera  where  it  is  all  an  affair  of  the  intellect,  also,  with 
much  profundity,  expressed  their  approval  of  a  work  afford 
ing  such  ample  material  for  ratiocination.  And  following 
these  two  groups  went  that  large  city  crowd  (indifferent  to> 
art,  with  their  capacity  to  be  infected  by  it  perverted  and 
partly  atrophied),  headed  by  the  princes,  millionaires,  and 
art  patrons,  who,  like  sorry  harriers,  keep  close  to  those  who 
most  loudly  and  decidedly  express  their  opinion. 

"  Oh  yes,  certainly!  What  poetry!  Marvellous  !  Especi 
ally  the  birds  !  "  "  Yes,  yes  !  I  am  quite  vanquished  !  " 
exclaim  these  people,  repeating  in  various  tones  what  they 

142  WHAT  IS  ART? 

have  just  heard  from  men  whose  opinion  appears  to  them 

If  some  people  do  feel  insulted  by  the  absurdity  and 
spuriousness  of  the  whole  thing,  they  are  timidly  silent,  as 
sober  men  are  timid  and  silent  when  surrounded  by  tipsy 

And  thus,  thanks  to  the  masterly  skill  with  which  it 
counterfeits  art  while  having  nothing  in  common  with  it, 
a  meaningless,  coarse,  spurious  production  finds  acceptance 
all  over  the  world,  costs  millions  of  roubles  to  produce,  and 
assists  more  and  more  to  pervert  the  taste  of  people  of  the 
upper  classes  and  their  conception  of  what  is  art. 


I  KNOW  that  most  men — not  only  those  considered  clever, 
but  even  those  who  are  very  clever  and  capable  of 
understanding  most  difficult  scientific,  mathematical  or 
philosophic  problems — can  very  seldom  discern  even  the 
simplest  and  most  obvious  truth  if  it  be  such  as  to  oblige 
them  to  admit  the  falsity  of  conclusions  they  have  formed, 
perhaps  with  much  difficulty — conclusions  of  which  they 
are  proud,  which  they  have  taught  to  others,  and  on  which 
they  have  built  their  lives.  And  therefore  I  have  little 
hope  that  what  I  adduce  as  to  the  perversion  of  art  and 
taste  in  our  society  will  be  accepted  or  even  seriously 
considered.  Nevertheless,  I  must  state  fully  the  inevitable 
conclusion  to  which  my  investigation  into  the  question  of 
art  has  brought  me.  This  investigation  has  brought  me  to 
the  conviction  that  almost  all  that  our  society  considers  to 
be  art,  good  art,  and  the  whole  of  art,  far  from  being  real 
and  good  art,  and  the  whole  of  art,  is  not  even  art  at  all, 
but  only  a  counterfeit  of  it.  This  position,  I  know,  will 
seem  very  strange  and  paradoxical ;  but  if  we  once  acknow 
ledge  art  to  be  a  human  activity  by  means  of  which  some 
people  transmit  their  feelings  to  others  (and  not  a  service 
of  Beauty,  nor  a  manifestation  of  the  Idea,  and  so  forth),  we 
shall  inevitably  have  to  admit  this  further  conclusion  also. 
If  it  is  true  that  art  is  an  activity  by  means  of  which  one 
man  having  experienced  a  feeling  intentionally  transmits  it 
to  others,  then  we  have  inevitably  to  admit  further,  that  of 
all  that  among  us  is  termed  the  art  of  the  upper  classes — of  all 


J44  WHAT  IS  ART? 

those  novels,  stories,  dramas,  comedies,  pictures,  sculptures, 
symphonies,  operas,  operettas,  ballets,  etc.,  which  profess  to 
be  works  A  art — scarcely  one  in  a  hundred  thousand  pro- 
deeds  frdKm  emotion  felt  by  its  author,  all  the  rest  being 
v  'b^  mamKctured  counterfeits  of  art  in  which  borrowing, 
imitating,  effects,  and  interestingness  replace  the  con 
tagion  of  feeling.  That  the  proportion  of  real  productions 
of  art  is  to  the  counterfeits  as  one  to  some  hundreds  of 
thousands  or  even  more,  may  be  seen  by  the  following 
calculation.  I  have  read  somewhere  that  the  artist  painters 
in  Paris  alone  number  30,000;  there  will  probably  be  as 
many  in  England,  as  many  in  Germany,  and  as  many  in 
Russia,  Italy,  and  the  smaller  states  combined.  So  that  in 
all  there  will  be  in  Europe,  say,  120,000  painters;  and  there 
are  probably  as  many  musicians  and  as  many  literary  artists. 
If  these  360,000  individuals  produce  three  works  a  year  each 
(and  many  of  them  produce  ten  or  more),  then  each  year 
yields  over  a  million  so-called  works  of  art.  How  many,  then, 
must  have  been  produced  in  the  last  ten  years,  and  how 
many  in  the  whole  time  since  upper-class  art  broke  off  from 
the  art  of  the  whole  people  1  Evidently  millions.  Yet  who 
of  all  the  connoisseurs  of  art  has  received  impressions  from 
all  these  pseudo  works  of  art  1  Not  to  mention  all  the  labour 
ing  classes  who  have  no  conception  of  these  productions, 
even  people  of  the  upper  classes  cannot  know  one  in  a 
thousand  of  them  all,  and  cannot  remember  those  they 
have  known.  These  works  all  appear  under  the  guise  of 
art,  produce  no  impression  on  anyone  (except  when  they 
serve  as  pastimes  for  the  idle  crowd  of  rich  people),  and 
vanish  utterly. 

In  reply  to  this  it  is  usually  said  that  without  this 
enormous  number  of  unsuccessful  attempts  we  should  not 
have  the  real  works  of  art.  But  such  reasoning  is  as  though 
a  baker,  in  reply  to  a  reproach  that  his  bread  was  bad,  were 
to  say  that  if  it  were  not  for  the  hundreds  of  spoiled  loaves 

WHAT  IS  ART?  145 

there  would  not  be  any  well-baked  ones.  It  is  true  that 
where  there  is  gold  there  is  also  much  sand ;  but  that  can 
not  serve  as  a  reason  for  talking  a  lot  of  nonse^fc  in  order 
to  say  something  wise.  AL  ^ 

We  are  surrounded  by  productions  consideiSr  artis^Jb.'  L' 
Thousands  of  verses,  thousands  of  poems,  thousands  of  novels, 
thousands  of  dramas,  thousands  of  pictures,  thousands  of  x 
musical  pieces,  follow  one  after  another.  All  the  verses 
describe  love,  or  nature,  or  the  author's  state  of  mind,  and 
in  all  of  them  rhyme  and  rhythm  are  observed.  All  the 
dramas  and  comedies  are  splendidly  mounted  and  are  per 
formed  by  admirably  trained  actors.  All  the  novels  are 
divided  into  chapters ;  all  of  them  describe  love,  contain 
effective  situations,  and  correctly  describe  the  details  of  life. 
All  the  symphonies  contain  allegro,  andante,  scherzo,  and 
finale ;  all  consist  of  modulations  and  chords,  and  are  played 
by  highly-trained  musicians.  All  the  pictures,  in  gold  frames, 
saliently  depict  faces  and  sundry  accessories.  But  among 
these  productions  in  the  various  branches  of  art  there  is  in 
each  branch  one  among  hundreds  of  thousands,  not  only 
somewhat  better  than  the  rest,  but  differing  from  them  as  a 
diamond  differs  from  paste.  The  one  is  priceless,  the  others 
not  only  have  no  value  but  are  worse  than  valueless,  for 
they  deceive  and  pervert  taste.  And  yet,  externally,  they 
are,  to  a  man  of  perverted  or  atrophied  artistic  perception, 
precisely  alike. 

In  our  society  the  difficulty  of  recognising  real  works  of 
art  is  further  increased  by  the  fact  that  the  external  quality 
of  the  work  in  false  productions  is  not  only  no  worse,  but 
often  better,  than  in  real  ones ;  the  counterfeit  is  often 
more  effective  than  the  real,  and  its  subject  more  interesting. 
How  is  one  to  discriminate  1  How  is  one  to  find  a  production 
in  no  way  distinguished  in  externals  from  hundreds  of  thou 
sands  of  others  intentionally  made  to  imitate  it  precisely  ? 

For  a  country  peasant   of    unperverted   taste  this    is   as 

146  WHAT  IS  ART? 

easy  as  it  is  for  an  animal  of  unspoilt  scent  to  follow 
the  trace  he  needs  among  a  thousand  others  in  wood  or 
forest.  The  animal  unerringly  finds  what  he  needs.  So 
also  the  man,  if  only  his  natural  qualities  have  not  been 
perverted,  will,  without  fail,  select  from  among  thousands 
of  objects  the  real  work  of  art  he  requires — that  infecting 
him  with  the  feeling  experienced  by  the  artist.  But  it  is 
not  so  with  those  whose  taste  has  been  perverted  by  their 
education  and  life.  The  receptive  feeling  for  art  of  these 
people  is  atrophied,  and  in  valuing  artistic  productions  they 
must  be  guided  by  discussion  and  study,  which  discus 
sion  and  study  completely  confuse  them.  So  that  most 
people  in  our  society  are  quite  unable  to  distinguish  a  work 
of  art  from  the  grossest  counterfeit.  People  sit  for  whole 
hours  in  concert-rooms  and  theatres  listening  to  the  new 
composers,  consider  it  a  duty  to  read  the  novels  of  the 
famous  modern  novelists  and  to  look  at  pictures  represent 
ing  either  something  incomprehensible  or  just  the  very 
things  they  see  much  better  in  real  life;  and,  above  all, 
they  consider  it  incumbent  on  them  to  be  enraptured  by 
all  this,  imagining  it  all  to  be  art,  while  at  the  same  time 
they  will  pass  real  works  of  art  by,  not  only  without 
attention,  but  even  with  contempt,  merely  because,  in  their 
circle,  these  works  are  not  included  in  the  list  of  works 
of  art. 

A  few  days  ago  I  was  returning  home  from  a  walk  feeling 
depressed,  as  occurs  sometimes.  On  nearing  the  house  I 
heard  the  loud  singing  of  a  large  choir  of  peasant  women. 
They  were  welcoming  my  daughter,  celebrating  her  return 
home  after  her  marriage.  In  this  singing,  with  its  cries 
and  clanging  of  scythes,  such  a  definite  feeling  of  joy, 
cheerfulness,  and  energy  was  expressed,  that,  without 
noticing  how  it  infected  me,  I  continued  my  way  towards 
the  house  in  a  better  mood,  and  reached  home  smiling  and 
quite  in  good  spirits.  That  same  evening,  a  visitor,  an 

WHAT  IS  ART?  147 

admirable  musician,  famed  for  his  execution  of  classical 
music,  and  particularly  of  Beethoven,  played  us  Beethoven's 
sonata,  Opus  101.  For  the  benefit  of  those  who  might 
otherwise  attribute  my  judgment  of  that  sonata  of  Beethoven 
to  non-comprehension  of  it,  I  should  mention  that  whatever 
other  people  understand  of  that  sonata  and  of  other 
productions  of  Beethoven's  later  period,  I,  being  very 
susceptible  to  music,  equally  understood.  For  a  long  time 
I  used  to  atune  myself  so  as  to  delight  in  those  shapeless 
improvisations  which  form  the  subject-matter  of  the  works 
of  Beethoven's  later  period,  but  I  had  only  to  consider  the 
question  of  art  seriously,  and  to  compare  the  impression 
I  received  from  Beethoven's  later  Avorks  with  those  pleasant, 
clear,  and  strong  musical  impressions  which  are  transmitted, 
for  instance,  by  the  melodies  of  Bach  (his  arias),  Haydn, 
Mozart,  Chopin  (when  his  melodies  are  not  overloaded 
with  complications  and  ornamention),  and  of  Beethoven 
himself  in  his  earlier  period,  and  above  all,  with  the 
impressions  produced  by  folk-songs, — Italian,  Norwegian, 
or  Russian, — by  the  Hungarian  tzar  das,  and  other  such 
simple,  clear,  and  powerful  music,  and  the  obscure,  almost 
unhealthy  excitement  from  Beethoven's  later  pieces  that  I 
had  artificially  evoked  in  myself  was  immediately  destroyed. 
On  the  completion  of  the  performance  (though  it  was 
noticeable  that  everyone  had  become  dull)  those  present,  in 
the  accepted  manner,  warmly  praised  Beethoven's  profound 
production,  and  did  not  forget  to  add  that  formerly  they 
had  not  been  able  to  understand  that  last  period  of  his, 
but  that  they  now  saw  that  he  was  really  then  at  his  very 
best.  And  when  I  ventured  to  compare  the  impression 
made  on  me  by  the  singing  of  the  peasant  women — an 
impression  which  had  been  shared  by  all  who  heard  it — with 
the  effect  of  this  sonata,  the  admirers  of  Beethoven  only 
smiled  contemptuously,  not  considering  it  necessary  to  reply 
to  such  strange  remarks. 

148  WHAT  IS  ART? 

But,  for  all  that,  the  song  of  the  peasant  women  was  real 
art,  transmitting  a  definite  and  strong  feeling;  while  the 
101st  sonata  of  Beethoven  was  only  an  unsuccessful  attempt 
at  art,  containing  no  definite  feeling  and  therefore  not 

For  my  work  on  art  I  have  this  winter  read  diligently, 
though  with  great  effort,  the  celebrated  novels  and  stories, 
praised  by  all  Europe,  written  by  Zola,  Bourget,  Huysmans, 
and  Kipling.  At  the  same  time  I  chanced  on  a  story  in  a 
child's  magazine,  and  by  a  quite  unknown  writer,  which  told 
of  the  Easter  preparations  in  a  poor  widow's  family.  Th* 
story  tells  how  the  mother  managed  with  difficulty  to  obtain 
some  wheat-flour,  which  she  poured  on  the  table  ready  to 
knead.  She  then  went  out  to  procure  some  yeast,  telling 
the  children  not  to  leave  the  hut,  and  to  take  care  of  the 
flour.  When  the  mother  had  gone,  some  other  children 
ran  shouting  near  the  window,  calling  those  in  the  hut  to 
come  to  play.  The  children  forgot  their  mother's  warning, 
ran  into  the  street,  and  were  soon  engrossed  in  the  game. 
The  mother,  on  her  return  with  the  yeast,  finds  a  hen 
on  the  table  throwing  the  last  of  the  flour  to  her  chickens, 
who  were  busily  picking  it  out  of  the  dust  of  the  earthen 
floor.  The  mother,  in  despair,  scolds  the  children,  who  cry 
bitterly.  And  the  mother  begins  to  feel  pity  for  them — but 
the  white  flour  has  all  gone.  So  to  mend  matters  she 
decides  to  make  the  Easter  cake  with  sifted  rye-flour, 
brushing  it  over  with  white  of  egg  and  surrounding  it 
with  eggs.  "Rye-bread  which  we  bake  is  akin  to  any 
cake,"  says  the  mother,  using  a  rhyming  proverb  to  console 
the  children  for  not  having  an  Easter  cake  made  with  white 
flour.  And  the  children,  quickly  passing  from  despair  to 
rapture,  repeat  the  proverb  and  await  the  Easter  cake  more 
merrily  even  than  before. 

Well !  the  reading  of  the  novels  and  stories  by  Zola, 
Bourget,  Huysmans,  Kipling,  and  others,  handling  the  most 

WHAT  IS  ART?  149 

harrowing  subjects,  did  not  touch  me  for  one  moment,  and 
I  was  provoked  with  the  authors  all  the  while,  as  one  is 
provoked  with  a  man  who  considers  you  so  naive  that  he 
does  not  even  conceal  the  trick  by  which  he  intends  to  take 
you  in.  From  the  first  lines  you  see  the  intention  with 
which  the  book  is  written,  and  the  details  all  become  super 
fluous,  and  one  feels  dull.  Above  all,  one  knows  that  the 
author  had  no  other  feeling  all  the  time  than  a  desire  to 
write  a  story  or  a  novel,  and  so  one  receives  110  artistic  im 
pression.  On  the  other  hand,  I  could  not  tear  myself  away 
from  the  unknown  author's  tale  of  the  children  and  the 
chickens,  because  I  was  at  once  infected  by  the  feeling  which 
the  author  had  evidently  experienced,  re-evoked  in  himself, 
and  transmitted. 

Vasnetsoff  is  one  of  our  Russian  painters.  He  has  painted 
ecclesiastical  pictures  in  Kieff  Cathedral,  and  everyone 
praises  him  as  the  founder  of  some  new,  elevated  kind  of 
Christian  art.  He  worked  at  those  pictures  for  ten  years, 
was  paid  tens  of  thousands  of  roubles  for  them,  and  they  are 
all  simply  bad  imitations  of  imitations  of  imitations,  destitute 
of  any  spark  of  feeling.  And  this  same  Vasnetsoff  drew  a 
picture  for  Tourgenieff s  story  "  The  Quail  "  (in  which  it  is 
told  how,  in  his  son's  presence,  a  father  killed  a  quail  and 
felt  pity  for  it),  showing  the  boy  asleep  with  pouting  upper 
lip,  and  above  him,  as  a  dream,  the  quail.  And  this  picture 
is  a  true  work  of  art. 

In  the  English  Academy  of  1897  two  pictures  were 
exhibited  together;  one  of  which,  by  J.  C.  Dolman,  was  the 
temptation  of  St.  Anthony.  The  Saint  is  on  his  knees  praying. 
Behind  him  stands  a  naked  woman  and  animals  of  some 
kind.  It  is  apparent  that  the  naked  woman  pleased  the 
artist  very  much,  but  that  Anthony  did  not  concern  him  at 
all ;  and  that,  so  far  from  the  temptation  being  terrible  to 
him  (the  artist)  it  is  highly  agreeable.  And  therefore  if 
there  be  any  art  in  this  picture,  it  is  very  nacty  and  false. 

150  WHAT  IS  ART? 

Next  in  the  same  book  of  academy  pictures  comes  a  picture 
by  Langley,  showing  a  stray  beggar  boy,  who  has  evidently 
been  called  in  by  a  woman  who  has  taken  pity  on  him. 
The  boy,  pitifully  drawing  his  bare  feet  under  the  bench, 
is  eating ;  the  woman  is  looking  on,  probably  considering 
whether  he  will  not  want  some  more  ;  and  a  girl  of  about 
seven,  leaning  on  her  arm,  is  carefully  and  seriously  looking 
on,  not  taking  her  eyes  from  the  hungry  boy,  and  evidently 
understanding  for  the  first  time  what  poverty  is,  and  what 
inequality  among  people  is,  and  asking  herself  why  she  has 
everything  provided  for  her  while  this  boy  goes  bare-foot 
and  hungry?  She  feels  sorry  and  yet  pleased.  And  she 
loves  both  the  boy  and  goodness.  .  .  .  And  one  feels  that 
the  artist  loved  this  girl,  and  that  she  too  loves.  And  this 
picture,  by  an  artist  who,  I  think,  is  not  very  widely  known, 
is  an  admirable  and  true  work  of  art. 

I  remember  seeing  a  performance  of  Hamlet  by  Rossi. 
Both  the  tragedy  itself  and  the  performer  who  took  the 
chief  part  are  considered  by  our  critics  to  represent  the 
climax  of  supreme  dramatic  art.  And  yet,  both  from  the 
subject-matter  of  the  drama  and  from  the  performance,  I 
experienced  all  the  time  that  peculiar  suffering  which  is 
caused  by  false  imitations  of  works  of  art.  And  I  lately 
read  of  a  theatrical  performance  among  the  savage  tribe  the 
Voguls.  A  spectator  describes  the  play.  A  big  Vogul  and  a 
a  little  one,  both  dressed  in  reindeer  skins,  represent  a  rein 
deer-doe  and  its  young.  A  third  Yogul,  with  a  bow,  repre 
sents  a  huntsman  on  snow-shoes,  and  a  fourth  imitates  with 
his  voice  a  bird  that  warns  the  reindeer  of  their  danger.  The 
play  is  that  the  huntsman  follows  the  track  that  the  doe 
with  its  young  one  has  travelled.  The  deer  run  off  the 
scene  and  again  reappear.  (Such  performances  take  place 
in  a  small  tent-house.)  The  huntsman  gains  more  and  more 
on  the  pursued.  The  little  deer  is  tired,  and  presses  against 
its  mother.  The  doe  stops  to  draw  breath.  The  hunter 

WHAT  IS  ART?  151 

comes  up  with  them  and  draws  his  bow.  But  just  then  the 
bird  sounds  its  note,  warning  the  deer  of  their  danger. 
They  escape.  Again  there  is  a  chasej  and  again  the  hunter 
gains  on  them,  catches  them  and  lets  fly  his  arrow.  The 
arrow  strikes  the  young  deer.  Unable  to  run,  the  little  one 
presses  against  its  mother.  The  mother  licks  its  wound. 
The  hunter  draws  another  arrow.  The  audience,  as  the 
eye-witness  describes  them,  are  paralysed  with  suspense ; 
deep  groans  and  even  weeping  is  heard  among  them.  And, 
from  the  mere  description,  I  felt  that  this  was  a  true  work 
of  art. 

What  I  am  saying  will  be  considered  irrational  paradox, 
at  which  one  can  only  be  amazed ;  but  for  all  that  I  must 
say  what  I  think,  namely,  that  people  of  our  circle,  of  whom 
some  compose  verses,  stories,  novels,  operas,  symphonies, 
and  sonatas,  paint  all  kinds  of  pictures  and  make  statues, 
while  others  hear  and  look  at  these  things,  and  again  others 
appraise  and  criticise  it  all,  discuss,  condemn,  triumph,  and 
raise  monuments  to  one  another  generation  after  generation, 
— that  all  these  people,  with  very  few  exceptions,  artists, 
and  public,  and  critics,  have  never  (except  in  childhood  and 
earliest  youth,  before  hearing  any  discussions  on  art),  ex 
perienced  that  simple  feeling  familiar  to  the  plainest  man 
and  even  to  a  child,  that  sense  of  infection  with  another's 
feeling, — compelling  us  to  joy  in  another's  gladness,  to 
sorrow  at  another's  grief,  and  to  mingle  souls  with  another, 
— which  is  the  very  essence  of  art.  And  therefore  these 
people  not  only  cannot  distinguish  true  works  of  art  from 
counterfeits,  but  continually  mistake  for  real  art  the  worst 
and  most  artificial,  while  they  do  not  even  perceive  works 
of  real  art,  because  the  counterfeits  are  always  more  ornate, 
while  true  art  is  modest. 

o   J      AJuJL 


ART,  in  our  society,  has  been  so  perverted  that  not  only  has 
bad  art  come  to  be  considered  good,  but  even  the  very  per 
ception  of  what  art  really  is  has  been  lost.  In  ordejr  tq  be 
able  to  speak  about  the  art  of  our  society,  it  is,  therefore, 
first  of  all  necessary  to  distinguish  art  from  counterfeit  art. 

There  is  one  indubitable  indication  distinguishing  real 
art  from  its  counterfeit,  namely,  the  infectiousness  of  art. 
If  a  man,  without  exercising  effort  and  without  altering  his 
istandpoint,  on  reading,  hearing,  or  seeing  another  man's 
(work,  experiences  a  mental  condition  which  unites  him 
[with  that  man  and  with  other  people  who  also  partake  of 
that  work  of  art,  then  the  object  evoking  that  condition  is 
a  work  of  art.  And  however  poetical,  realistic,  effectful,  or 
interesting  a  work  may  be,  it  is  not  a  work  of  art  if  it  does 
not  evoke  that  feeling  (quite  distinct  from  all  other  feelings) 
of  joy,  and  of  spiritual  union  with  another  (the  author)  and 
with  others  (those  who  are  also  infected  by  it). 

It  is  true  that  this  indication  is  an  internal  one,  and  that 
there  are  people  who  have  forgotten  what  the  action  of  real 
art  is,  who  expect  something  else  from  art  (in  our  society 
the  great  majority  are  in  this  state),  and  that  therefore  such 
people  may  mistake  for  this  aesthetic  feeling  the  feeling  of 
divertisement  and  a  certain  excitement  which  they  receive 
from  counterfeits  of  art.  But  though  it  is  impossible  to 
undeceive  these  people,  just  as  it  is  impossible  to  convince 
a  man  suffering  from  "Daltonism"  that  green  is  not  red, 
yet,  for  all  that,  this  indication  remains  perfectly  definite 


WHAT  IS  ART?  153 

to  those  whose  feeling  for  art  is  neither  perverted  nor 
atrophied,  and  it  clearly  distinguishes  the  feeling  produced 
by  art  from  all  other  feelings. 

The  chief  peculiarity  of  this  feeling  is  that  the  receiver  of 
a  true  artistic  impression  is  so  united  to  the  artist  that  he/ 
feels  as  if  the  work  were  his  own  and  not  someone  else's; — > 
as  if  what  it  expresses  were  just  what  he  had  long  been' 
wishing  to  express.  A  real  work  of  art  destroys,  in  the' 
consciousness  of  the  receiver,  the  separation  between  him 
self  and  the  artist,  nor  that  alone,  but  also  between  himself 
and  all  whose  minds  receive  this  work  of  art.  In  this 
freeing  of  our  personality  from  its  separation  and  isolation,  |  j 
in  this  uniting  of  it  with  others,  lies  the  chief  characteristic  \ , 
and  the  great  attractive  force  of  art. 

If  a  man  is  infected  by  the  author's  condition  of  soul,  if   , 
he  feels  this  emotion  and  this  union  with  others,  then  the 
object  \vhich  has  effected  this  is  art;   but  if   there  be  no 
such  infection,  if  there  be  not  this  union  with  the  author  ^ 
and  with  others  who  are  moved  by  the  same  work — then  it    ; 
is  not  art.     And  not  only  is  infection  a  sure  sign  of  art, 
but  the  degree  of  infectiousness  is  also  the  sole  measure  of 
excellence  in  art. 

The  stronger  the  infection  the  better  is  the  art,  as  art, 
speaking  now  apart  from  its  subject-matter,  i.e.  not  con 
sidering  the  quality  of  the  feelings  it  transmits. 

And  the  degree  of  the  infectiousness  of  art  depends  on 
three  conditions  : — 

(1)  On  the  greater  or  lesser  individuality  of  the  feeling 
transmitted ;    (2)  on  the   greater   or   lesser   clearness    with  : 
which  the  feeling  is  transmitted;  (3)  on  the  sincerity  of  the 
artist,  i.e.  on  the  greater  or  lesser  force  with  which  the  artist 
himself  feels  the  emotion  he  transmits. 

The  more  individual  the  feeling  transmitted  the  more 
strongly  does  it  act  on  the  receiver ;  the  more  individual 
the  state  of  soul  into  which  he  is  transferred  the  more 

154  WHAT  JS  ART? 

\  pleasure  does  the  receiver  obtain,  and  therefore  the  more 
\readily  and  strongly  does  he  join  in  it. 

The  clearness  of  expression  assists  infection,  because  the 
receiver,  who  mingles  in  consciousness  with  the  author,  is 
the  better  satisfied  the  more  clearly  the  feeling  is  trans 
mitted,  which,  as  it  seems  to  him,  he  has  long  known  and 
felt,  and  for  which  he  has  only  now  found  expression. 

But  most  of  all  is  the  degree  of  infectiousness  of  art 
\  increased  by  the  degree  of  sincerity  in  the  artist.  As  soon 
as  the  spectator,  hearer,  or  reader  feels  that  the  artist  is 
infected  by  his  own  production,  and  writes,  sings,  or  plays 
for  himself  and  not  merely  to  act  on  others,  this  mental  con 
dition  of  the  artist  infects  the  receiver ;  and,  contrariwise, 
as  soon  as  the  spectator,  reader,  or  hearer  feels  that  the  author 
is  not  writing,  singing,  or  playing  for  his  own  satisfaction, — 
does  not  himself  feel  what  he  wishes  to  express, — but  is  doing 
it  for  him,  the  receiver,  a  resistance  immediately  springs  up, 
and  the  most  individual  and  the  newest  feelings  and  the 
cleverest  technique  not  only  fail  to  produce  any  infection 
but  actually  repel. 

I  have  mentioned  three  conditions  of  contagiousness  in 
art,  but  they  may  all  be  summed  up  into  one,  the  last, 
sincerity,  i.e.  that  the  artist  should  be  impelled  by  an  inner 
'\  need  to  express  his  feeling.  That  condition  includes  the 
jfirst ;  for  if  the  artist  is  sincere  he  will  express  the  feeling 
'as  he  experienced  it.  And  as  each  man  is  different  from 
everyone  else,  his  feeling  will  be  individual  for  everyone 
else ;  and  the  more  individual  it  is, — the  more  the  artist 
has  drawn  it  from  the  depths  of  his  nature, — the  more 
sympathetic  and  sincere  will  it  be.  And  this  same  sincerity 
will  impel  the  artist  to  find  a  clear  expression  of  the  feeling 
which  he  wishes  to  transmit. 

Therefore  this  third  condition — sincerity — is  the  most 
important  of  the  three.  It  is  always  complied  with  in 
peasant  art,  and  this  explains  why  such  art  always  acts  so 

WHAT  IS  ART?  155 

powerfully;  but  it  is  a  condition  almost  entirely  absent 
from  our  upper-class  art,  which  is  continually  produced  by 
artists  actuated  by  personal  aims  of  covetousness  or  vanity. 

Such  are  the  three  conditions  which  divide  art  from  its 
counterfeits,  and  which  also  decide  the  quality  of  every 
w.ork  of  art  apart  from  its  subject-matter. 

The  absence  of  any  one  of  these  conditions  excludes  a 
work  from  the  category  of  art  and  relegates  it  to  that  of 
art's  counterfeits.  If  the  work  does  not  transmit  the 
artist's  peculiarity  of  feeling,  and  is  therefore  not  individual, 
if  it  is  unintelligibly  expressed,  or  if  it  has  not  proceeded 
from  the  author's  inner  need  for  expression — it  is  not  a 
work  of  art.  If  all  these  conditions  are  present,  even  in 
the  smallest  degree,  then  the  work,  even  if  a  weak  one,  is 
yet  a  work  of  art. 

The  presence  in  various  degrees  of  these  three  conditions  : 
individuality,  clearness,  and  sincerity,  decides  the  merit  of 
a  work  of  art,  as  art,  apart  from  subject-matter.  All  works 
of  art  take  rank  of  merit  according  to  the  degree  in  which 
they  fulfil  the  first,  the  second,  and  the  third  of  these  con 
ditions.  In  one  the  individuality  of  the  feeling  transmitted 
may  predominate ;  in  another,  clearness  of  expression ;  in  a 
third,  sincerity '}  while  a  fourth  may  have  sincerity  and 
individuality  but  be  deficient  in  clearness  ;  a  fifth,  individ 
uality  and  clearness,  but  less  sincerity ;  and  so  forth,  in  all 
possible  degrees  and  combinations. 

Thus  is  art  divided  from  not  art,  and  thus  is  the  quality 
of  art,  as  art,  decided,  independently  of  its  subject-matter, 
i.e.  apart  from  whether  the  feelings  it  transmits  are  good  or 

But  how  are  we  to  define  good  and  bad  art  with  reference 
to  its  subject-matter  ? 

N-    Jr-if-   UM>.- 



f**f  Y"    off- 


How  in  art  are  we  to  decide  what  is  good  and  what  is 
bad  in  subject-matter? 

Art,   like    speech,    is   a   means   of    communication,    and 
I  therefore  of   progress,  i.e.   of  the  movement  of   humanity 
\  forward  towards  perfection.      Speech  renders  accessible  to 
men  of  the  latest  generations  all  the  knowledge  discovered 
by  the  experience  and  reflection,  both  of  preceding  genera 
tions  and  of  the  best  and  foremost  men  of  their  own  times ; 
art  renders  accessible  to  men  of  the  latest  generations  all 
|  the  feelings  experienced  by  their  predecessors,  and  those 
I  also  which  are  being  felt  by  their  best  and  foremost  con- 
l  temporaries,     And  as  the  evolution  of  knowledge  proceeds 
by   truer   and   more   necessary   knowledge    dislodging  and 
replacing  what  is  mistaken  and  unnecessary,  so  the  evolu 
tion  of  feeling  proceeds  through  art, — feelings  less  kind  and 
/less  needful  for  the  well-being  of  mankind  are  replaced  by 
'others  kinder  and  more  needful  for  that  end.     That  is  the 
purpose  of  art.      And,  speaking  now  of  its  subject-matter, 
the  more  art  fulfils  that  purpose  the  better  the  art,  and  the 
less  it  fulfils  it  the  worse  the  art. 

And  the  appraisement  of  feelings  (i.e.  the  acknowledgment 
of  these  or  those  feelings  as  being  more  or  less  good,  more 
or  less  necessary  for  the  well-being  of  mankind)  is  made  by 
ifhe  religious  perception  of  the  age. 

i  In  every  period  of  history,  and  in  every  human  society, 
there  exists  an  understanding  of  the  meaning  of  life  which 
represents  the  highest  level  to  which  men  of  that  society 


WHAT  IS  ART?  157 

have  attained, — an  understanding  denning  the  highest  good,? 
at  which  that  society  aims.     And  this  understanding  is  the  « 
religious  perception  of  the  given  time  and  society.     And  ' 
this  religious  perception  is  ahvays  clearly  expressed  by  some 
advanced  men,  and  more  or  less  vividly  perceived  by  all  the 
members  of  the  society.     Such  a  religious  perception  and  its 
corresponding  expression  exists  always  in  every  society.     If 
it  appears  to  us  that  in  our  society  there  is  no  religious 
perception,  this  is  not  because  there  really  is  none,  but  only 
because  we  do  not  want  to  see  it.     And  we  often  wish  not 
to  see  it  because  it  exposes  the  fact  that  our  life  is  incon 
sistent  with  that  religious  perception. 

Religious  perception  in  a  society  is  like  the  direction  of 
a  flowing  river.  If  the  river  flows  at  all,  it  must  have 
a  direction.  If  a  society  lives,  there  must  be  a  religious 
perception  indicating  the  direction  in  which,  more  or  less 
consciously,  all  its  members  tend. 

And  so  there  always  has  been,  and  there  is,  a  religious 
perception  in  every  society.  And  it  is  by  the  standard  of  -^ 
this  religious  perception  that  the  feelings  transmitted  by  art  ?  1 
have  always  been  estimated.  Only  on  the  basis  of  this 
religious  perception  of  their  age  have  men  always  chosen  from 
the  endlessly  varied  spheres  of  art  that  art  which  transmitted 
feelings  making  religious  perception  operative  in  actual  life. 
And  such  art  has  always  been  highly  valued  and  encouraged; 
while  art  transmitting  feelings  already  outlived,  flowing  from 
the  antiquated  religious  perceptions  of  a  former  age,  has 
always  been  condemned  and  despised.  All  the  rest  of  art, 
transmitting  those  most  diverse  feelings  by  means  of  which 
people  commune  together,  was  not  condemned,  and  was 
tolerated,  if  only  it  did  not  transmit  feelings  contrary  to 
religious  perception.  Thus,  for  instance,  among  the  Greeks, 
art  transmitting  the  feeling  of  beauty,  strength,  and  courage 
(Hesiod,  Homer,  Phidias)  was  chosen,  approved,  and  encour 
aged;  while  art  transmitting  feelings  of  rude  sensuality, 

158  WHAT  IS  ART? 

despondency,  and  effeminacy  was  condemned  and  despised. 
Among  the  Jews,  art  transmitting  feelings  of  devotion  and 
submission  to  the  God  of  the  Hebrews  and  to  His  will  (the 
epic  of  Genesis,  the  prophets,  the  Psalms)  was  chosen  and 
encouraged,  while  art  transmitting  feelings  of  idolatry  (the 
golden  calf)  was  condemned  and  despised.  All  the  rest  of 
art — stories,  songs,  dances,  ornamentation  of  houses,  of 
utensils,  and  of  clothes — which  was  not  contrary  to  religious 
perception,  was  neither  distinguished  nor  discussed.  Thus, 
in  regard  to  its  subject-matter,  has  art  been  appraised  always 
and  everywhere,  and  thus  it  should  be  appraised,  for  this 
attitude  towards  art  proceeds  from  the  fundamental  charac 
teristics  of  human  nature,  and  those  characteristics  do  not 

I  know  that  according  to  an  opinion  current  in  our  times, 
religion  is  a  superstition,  which  humanity  has  outgrown,  and 
that  it  is  therefore  assumed  that  no  such  thing  exists  as  a 
religious  perception  common  to  us  all  by  which  art,  in  our 
time,  can  be  estimated.  I  know  that  this  is  the  opinion 
current  in  the  pseudo-cultured  circles  of  to-day.  People 
who  do  not  acknowledge  Christianity  in  its  true  meaning 
because  it  undermines  all  their  social  privileges,  and  who, 
therefore,  invent  all  kinds  of  philosophic  and  aesthetic  theories 
to  hide  from  themselves  the  meaninglessness  and  wrongness 
of  their  lives,  cannot  think  otherwise.  These  people  inten 
tionally,  or  sometimes  unintentionally,  confusing  the  con 
ception  of  a  religious  cult  with  the  conception  of  religious 
perception,  think  that  by  denying  the  cult  they  get  rid  of 
religious  perception.  But  even  the  very  attacks  on  religion, 
and  the  attempts  to  establish  a  life-conception  contrary  to 
the  religious  perception  of  our  times,  most  clearly  demon 
strate  the  existence  of  a  religious  perception  condemning 
the  lives  that  are  not  in  harmony  with  it. 

If  humanity  progresses,  i.e.  moves  forward,  there  must 
inevitably  be  a  guide  to  the  direction  of  that  movement. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  15^ 

And  religions  have  always  furnished  that  guide.  All 
history  shows  that  the  progress  of  humanity  is  accomplished 
not  otherwise  than  under  the  guidance  of  religion.  But  if 
the  race  cannot  progress  without  the  guidance  of  religion, 
— and  progress  is  always  going  on,  and  consequently 
also  in  our  own  times, — then  there  must  be  a  religion 
of  our  times.  So  that,  whether  it  pleases  or  displeases 
the  so-called  cultured  people  of  to-day,  they  must  admit 
the  existence  of  religion — not  of  a  religious  cult,  Catholic, 
Protestant,  or  another,  but  of  religious  perception — which, 
even  in  our  times,  is  the  guide  always  present  where 
there  is  any  progress.  And  if  a  religious  perception  exists 
amongst  us,  then  our  art  should  be  appraised  on  the 
basis  of  that  religious  perception ;  and,  as  has  always 
and  everywhere  been  the  case,  art  transmitting  feelings 
flowing  from  the  religious  perception  of  our  time  should 
be  chosen  from  all  the  indifferent  art,  should  be  acknow 
ledged,  highly  esteemed,  and  encouraged ;  while  art  running 
counter  to  that  perception  should  be  condemned  and 
despised,  and  all  the  remaining  indifferent  art  should 
neither  be  distinguished  nor  encouraged. 

The  religious  perception  of  our  time,  in  its  widest  and 
most  practical  application,  is  the  consciousness  that  our  well- 
being,  both  material  and  spiritual,  individual  and  collective, 
temporal  and  eternal,  lies  in  the  growth  of  brotherhood 
among  all  men — in  their  loving  harmony  with  one  another. 
This  perception  is  not  only  expressed  by  Christ  and  all  the 
best  men  of  past  ages,  it  is  not  only  repeated  in  the  most 
varied  forms  and  from  most  diverse  sides  by  the  best  men 
of  our  own  times,  but  it  already  serves  as  a  clue  to  all  the 
complex  labour  of  humanity,  consisting  as  this  labour  does, 
on  the  one  hand,  in  the  destruction  of  physical  and  moral 
obstacles  to  the  union  of  men,  and,  on  the  other  hand,  in 
establishing  the  principles  common  to  all  men  which  can, 
and  should  unite  them  into  one  universal  brotherhood.' 

11         />.  ''.*>•   '  -in 


-jo  WHAT  IS  ART? 

And  it  is  on  the  basis  of  this  perception  that  we  should 
appraise  all  the  phenomena  of  our  life,  and,  among  the  rest, 
our  art  also ;  choosing  from  all  its  realms  whatever  transmits 
feelings  flowing  from  this  religious  perception,  highly  prizing 
and  encouraging  such  art,  rejecting  whatever  is  contrary  to 
this  perception,  and  not  attributing  to  the  rest  of  art  an 
importance  not  properly  pertaining  to  it. 

The  chief  mistake  made  by  people  of  the  upper  classes 

of  the  time  of  the  so-called  Renaissance, — a  mistake  which 

we  still  perpetuate, — was  not  that  they  ceased  to  value  and 

to  attach  importance  to  religious  art  (people  of  that  period 

could  not  attach  importance  to  it,  because,  like  our  own 

i  upper  classes,  they  could  not  believe  in  what  the  majority 

\  considered  to  be  religion),  but  their  mistake  was  that  they 

'set   up    in   place    of   religious    art   which  was  lacking,   an 

{insignificant    art  which  aimed  only  at  giving  pleasure,  i.e. 

they  began  to  choose,  to  value,  and  to  encourage,  in  place 

of  religious  art,  something  which,  in  any  case,  did  not  deserve 

such  esteem  and  encouragement. 

One  of  the  Fathers  of  the  Church  said  that  the  great 
evil  is  not  that  men  do  not  know  God,  but  that  they  have 
set  up,  instead  of  God,  that  which  is  not  God.  So  also  with 
art.  The  great  misfortune  of  the  people  of  the  upper 
classes  of  our  time  is  not  so  much  that  they  are  without  a 
religious  art,  as  that,  instead  of  a  supreme  religious  art, 
I  chosen  from  all  the  rest  as  being  specially  important  and 
valuable,  they  have  chosen  a  most  insignificant  and,  usually, 
harmful  art,  which  aims  at  pleasing  certain  people,  and 
which,  therefore,  if  only  by  its  exclusive  nature,  stands  in 
contradiction  to  that  Christian  principle  of  universal  union 
which  forms  the  religious  perception  of  our  time.  Instead 
of  religious  art,  an  empty  and  often  vicious  art  is  set  up, 
and  this  hides  from  men's  notice  the  need  of  that  true 
religious  art  which  should  be  present  in  life  ID  order  to 
improve  it. 

.   WHAT  IS  ART?  161 

It  is  true  that  art  which  satisfies  the  demands  of  the 
religious  perception  of  our  time  is  quite  unlike  former 
art,  hut,  notwithstanding  this  dissimilarity,  to  a  man 
who  does  not  intentionally  hide  the  truth  from  himself, 
it  is  very  clear  and  definite  what  does  form  the  religious 
art  of  our  age.  In  former  times,  when  the  highest 
religious  perception  united  only  some  people  (who,  even 
if  they  formed  a  large  society,  were  yet  but  one 
society  surrounded  by  others — Jews,  or  Athenian  or  Roman 
citizens),  the  feelings  transmitted  by  the  art  of  that  time 
flowed  from  a  desire  for  the  might,  greatness,  glory,  and 
prosperity  of  that  society,  and  the  heroes  of  art  might  be 
people  who  contributed  to  that  prosperity  by  strength,  by 
craft,  by  fraud,  or  by  cruelty  (Ulysses,  Jacob,  David,  Samson, 
Hercules,  and  all  the  heroes).  But  the  religious  perception 
of  our  times  does  not  select  any  one  society  of  men ;  on 
the  contrary,  it  demands  the  union  of  all — absolutely  of  all 
people  without  exception — and  above  every  other  virtue  it 
sets  brotherly  love  to  all  men.  And,  therefore,  the  feelings 
transmitted  by  the  art  of  our  time  not  only  cannot  coincide 
with  the  feelings  transmitted  by  iormer  art,  but  must  run 
counter  to  them. 

Christian,  truly  Christian,  art  has  been  so  long  in  establish 
ing  itself,  and  has  not  yet  established  itself,  just  because  the 
Christian  religious  perception  was  not  one  of  those  small 
steps  by  which  humanity  advances  regularly,  but  was  an 
enormous  revolution,  which,  if  it  has  not  already  altered, 
must  inevitably  alter  the  entire  life-conception  of  mankind, 
and,  consequently,  the  whole  internal  organisation  of  their 
life.  It  is  true  that  the  life  of  humanity,  like  that  of  an 
individual,  moves  regularly ;  but  in  that  regular  movement 
come,  as  it  were,  turning-points,  which  sharply  divide  the 
preceding  from  the  subsequent  life.  Christianity  was  such 
a  turning-point;  such,  at  least,  it  must  appear  to  us  who 
live  by  the  Christian  perception  of  life.  Christian  perception 
1 1 

1 62  WHAT  IS  ART? 

gave  another,  a  new  direction  to  all  human  feelings,  and 
therefore  completely  altered  both  the  contents  and  the 
significance  of  art.  The  Greeks  could  make  use  of  Persian 
art  and  the  Eomans  could  use  Greek  art,  or,  similarly,  the 
Jews  could  use  Egyptian  art, —  the  fundamental  ideals 
were  one  and  the  same.  Now  the  ideal  was  the  great 
ness  and  prosperity  of  the  Persians,  now  the  greatness 
and  prosperity  of  the  Greeks,  now  that  of  the  Eomans. 
The  same  art  was  transferred  into  other  conditions,  and 
served  new  nations.  But  the  Christian  ideal  changed 
and  reversed  everything,  so  that,  as  the  Gospel  puts  it, 
"That  which  was  exalted  among  men  has  become  an 
i  abomination  in  the  sight  of  God."  The  ideal  is  no  longer 
\  the  greatness  of  Pharaoh  or  of  a  Eomaii  emperor,  not  the 
beauty  of  a  Greek  nor  the  wealth  of  Phoenicia,  but  humility, 
I  purity,  compassion,  love.  The  hero  is  no  longer  Dives,  but 
Lazarus  the  beggar ;  not  Mary  Magdalene  in  the  day  of  her 
beauty,  but  in  the  day  of  her  repentance ;  not  those  who 
acquire  wealth,  but  those  who  have  abandoned  it ;  not  those 
who  dwell  in  palaces,  but  those  who  dwell  in  catacombs  and 
huts;  not  those  who  rule  over  others,  but  those  who 
acknowledge  110  authority  but  God's.  And  the  greatest 
work  of  art  is  no  longer  a  cathedral  of  victory l  with  statues 
of  conquerors,  but  the  representation  of  a  human  soul 
so  transformed  by  love  that  a  man  who  is  tormented  and 
murdered  yet  pities  and  loves  his  persecutors. 

And  the  change  is  so  great  that  men  of  the  Christian 

world  find  it  difficult  to  resist  the  inertia  of  the  heathen 

art  to  which  they  have  been  accustomed  all  their  lives.     The 

-  subject-matter  of  Christian  religious  art  is  so  new  to  them, 

{  so  unlike  the  subject-matter  of  former  art,  that  it  seems  to 

I  them  as  though  Christian  art  were  a  denial  of  art,  and  they 

1  There  is  in  Moscow  a  magnificent  "Cathedral  of  our  Saviour," 
erected  to  commemorate  the  defeat  of  the  French  in  the  war  of  1812. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  163 

cling  desperately  to  the  old  art.  But  this  old  art,  having 
no  longer,  in  our  day,  any  source  in  religious  perception, 
has  lost  its  meaning,  and  we  shall  have  to  abandon  it 
whether  we  wish  to  or  not. 

The  essence  of  the  Christian  perception  consists  in  the 
recognition  by  every  man  of  his  sonship  to  God,  and  of  the 
consequent  union  of  men  with  God  and  with  one  another, 
as  is  said  in  the  Gospel  (John  xvii.  21 l).  Therefore  the 
subject-matter  of  Christian  art  is  such  feeling  as  can  unite  J, 
men  with  God  and  with  one  another. 

The  expression  unite  men  idtli  God  and  with  one 
another  may  seem  obscure  to  people  accustomed  to  the 
misuse  of  these  words  which  is  so  customary,  but  the  words 
have  a  perfectly  clear  meaning  nevertheless.  They  indicate 
that  the  Christian  union  of  man  (in  contradiction  to  the 
partial,  exclusive  union  of  only  some  men)  is  that  which 
unites  all  without  exception. 

Art,    all    art,    has    this    characteristic,     that    it    unites 
people.       Every    art    causes   those   to    whom    the    artist's 
feeling  is  transmitted  to  unite  in  soul  with  the  artist,  and 
also  with  all  who  receive  the  same  impression.     But  non- 
Christian  art,  while  uniting  some  people  together,  makes 
tli at  very  union  a  cause  of  separation  between  these  united 
people  and  others;  so  that  union  of  this  kind  is  often  a    ^ 
source,  not  only  of  division,   but  even  of  enmity  towards  1 
others.     Such  is  all  patriotic  art,  with  its  anthems,  poems,  \ 
and  monuments;   such  is  all    Church  art,  i.e.  the    art    of 
certain   cults,  with  their  images,  statues,   processions,   and 
other    local    ceremonies.     Such    art    is    belated    and    non- 
Christian   art,    uniting   the    people    of    one   cult    only    to 
separate  them  yet  more  sharply  from  the  members  of  other  - 
cults,  and  even  to  place  them  in  relations  of  hostility  to 
each  other.     Christian  art  is  only  such  as  tends  to  unite  all 

1  "That  they  may  be  one  ;  even  as  thou,  Father,  art  in  me,  and  L 
in  thee,  that  they  also  may  be  in  us." 

1 64  WHAT  IS  ART? 

without  exception,  either  by  evoking  in  them  the  percep 
tion  that  each  man  and  all  men  stand  in  like  relation 
towards  God  and  towards  their  neighbour,  or  by  evoking  in 
them  identical  feelings,  which  may  even  be  the  very  simplest 
provided  only  that  they  are  not  repugnant  to  Christianity 
and  are  natural  to  every^ne_jgii^xmt-exc£gition. 

Good  Christian  art  of  our  time  may  be  unintelligible  to 
people  because  of  imperfections  in  its  form,  or  because  men 
are  inattentive  to  it,  but  it  must  be  such  that  all  men  can 
experience  the  feelings  it  transmits.  It  must  be  the  art, 
not  of  some  one  group  of  people,  nor  of  one  class,  nor  of 
one  nationality,  nor  of  one  religious  cult ;  that  is,  it  must 
not  transmit  feelings  which  are  accessible  only  to  a  man 
educated  in  a  certain  way,  or  only  to  an  aristocrat,  or  a 
merchant,  or  only  to  a  Kussian,  or  a  native  of  Japan, 
or  a  Roman  Catholic,  or  a  Buddhist,  etc.,  but  it  must 
transmit  feelings  accessible  to  everyone.  Only  art  of 
this  kind  can  be  acknowledged  in  our  time  to  be  good 
art,  worthy  of  being  chosen  out  from  all  the  rest  of  art 
and  encouraged. 

Christian  art,  i.e.  the  art  of  our  time,  should  be  catholic 
J.n  the  original  meaning  of  the  word,  i.e.  universal,  and 
^  therefore  it  should  unite  all  men.  And  only  two  kinds 
[  /of  feeling  do  unite  all  men :  first,  feelings  flowing  from  the 
[perception  of  our  sonship  to  God  and  of  the  brotherhood 
I  of  man ;  and  next,  the  simple  feelings  of  common  life, 
!  accessible  to  everyone  without  exception  —  such  as  the 
feeling  of  merriment,  of  pity,  of  cheerfulness,  of  tran 
quillity,  etc.  Only  these  two  kinds  of  feelings  can  now 
supply  material  for  art  good  in  its  subject-matter. 

And  the  action  of  these  two  kinds  of  art,  apparently  so 
dissimilar,  is  one  and  the  same.  The  feelings  flowing  from 
perception  of  our  sonship  to  God  and  of  the  brotherhood 
of  man — such  as  a  feeling  of  sureness  in  truth,  devotion  to 
the  will  of  God,  self-sacrifice,  respect  for  and  love  of  man — 

WHAT  IS  ART?  165 

evoked  by  Christian  religious  perception ;  and  the  simplest 
feelings — such  as  a  softened  or  a  merry  mood  caused  by 
a  song  or  an  amusing  jest  intelligible  to  everyone,  or  by 
a  touching  story,  or  a  drawing,  or  a  little  doll :  both  alike 
produce  one  and  the  same  effect — the  loving  union  of  man 
with  man.  Sometimes  people  who  are  together  are,  if  not 
hostile  to  one  another,  at  least  estranged  in  mood  and 
feeling,  till  perchance  a  story,  a  performance,  a  picture,  or 
even  a  building,  but  oftenest  of  all  music,  unites  them  all 
as  by  an  electric  flash,  and,  in  place  of  their  former  isolation 
or  even  enmity,  they  are  all  conscious  of  union  and  mutual 
love.  Each  is  glad  that  another  feels  what  he  feels ;  glad 
of  the  communion  established,  not  only  between  him  ,and 
all  present,  but  also  with  all  now  living  who  will  yet  share 
the  same  impression;  and  more  than  that,  he  feels  the 
mysterious  gladness  of  a  communion  which,  reaching  beyond 
the  grave,  unites  us  with  all  men  of  the  past  who  have 
been  moved  by  the  same  feelings,  and  with  all  men  of  the 
future  who  will  yet  be  touched  by  them.  And  this  effect.  - 
is  produced  both  by  the  religious  art  which  transmits  .» 
feelings  of  love  to  God  and  one's  neighbour,  and  by  universal  { 
art  transmitting  the  very  simplest  feelings  common  to  all  ( 

The  art  of  our  time  should  be  appraised  differently  from 
former  art  chiefly  in  this,  that  the  art  of  our  time,  i.e. 
Christian  art  (basing  itself  on  a  religious  perception  which 
demands  the  jmion  of  man),  excludes  from  the  domain  of 
art  good  in  subject-matter  everything  transmitting  exclusive 
feelings,  which  do  not  unite  but  divide  men.  It  relegates 
such  work  to  the  category  of  art  bad  in  its  subject-matter, 
while,  on  the  other  hand,  it  includes  in  the  category  of  art 
good  in  subject-matter  a  section  not  formerly  admitted  to 
deserve  to  be  chosen  out  and  respected,  namely,  universal 
art  transmitting  even  the  most  trifling  and  simple  feelings 
if  only  thev  are  accessible  to  all  men  without  exception, 

1 66  WHAT  IS  ART? 

and  therefore  unite  them.     Such  art  cannot,  in  our  time, 
but  be  esteemed  good,  for  it    attains   the   end  which  the 
"  religious  perception  of  our  time,  i.e.  Christianity,  sets  before 

Christian  art  either  evokes  in  men  those  feelings  which, 
through  love  of  God  and  of  one's  neighbour,  draw  them 
to  greater  and  ever  greater  union,  and  make  them  ready 
for  and  capable  of  such  union ;  or  evokes  in  them  those 
feelings  which  show  them  that  they  are  already  united  in 
the  joys  and  sorrows  of  life.  And  therefore  the  Christian 
art  of  our  time  can  be  and  is  of  two  kinds :  (1)  art  trans 
mitting  feelings  flowing  from  a  religious  perception  of 
man's  position  in  the  world  in  relation  to  God  and  to  his 
neighbour — religious  art  in  the  limited  meaning  of  the 
term;  and  (2)  art  transmitting  the  simplest  feelings  of 
common  life,  but  such,  always,  as  are  accessible  to  all  men 
in  the  whole  world — the  art  of  common  life — the  art  of  a 

J   people — universal  art.     Only  these  two  kinds  of  art  can  be 

\   considered  good  art  in  our  time. 

-~  '  The  first,  religious  art, — transmitting  both  positive  feelings 
of  love  to  God  and  one's  neighbour,  and  negative  feelings  of 
indignation  and  horror  at  the  violation  of  love, — manifests 
itself  chiefly  in  the  form  of  words,  and  to  some  extent  also 
in  painting  and  sculpture  :  the  second  kind  (universal  art) 
transmitting  feelings  accessible  to  all,  manifests  itself  in 
words,  in  painting,  in  sculpture,  in  dances,  in  architecture, 
and,  most  of  all,  in  music. 

If  I  were  asked  to  give  modern  examples  of  each  of  these 
kinds  of  art,  then,  as  examples  of  the  highest  art,  flowing 
from  love  of  God  and  man  (both  of  the  higher,  positive,  and 
of  the  lower,  negative  kind),  in  literature  I  should  name 
The  Robbers  by  Schiller :  Victor  Hugo's  Les  Pauvres  Gens 
and  Les  Miserables :  the  novels  and  stories  of  Dickens — 
The  Tale  of  Tioo  Cities,  The  Christmas  Carol,  The  Chimes, 
and  others :  UncU  Tom's  Cabin :  Dostoievsky's  works — • 

WHAT  7.9  ART?   •  167 

especially  his  Memoirs  from  the  House  of  Death  :  and  Adam  } 
Bede  by  George  Eliot. 

In  modern  painting,  strange  to  say,  works  of  this  kind, 
directly  transmitting  the  Christian  feeling  of  love  of  God 
and  of  one's  neighbour,  are  hardly  to  be  found,  especially 
among  the  works  of  the  celebrated  painters.  There  are 
plenty  of  pictures  treating  of  the  Gospel  stories ;  they,  how 
ever,  depict  historical  events  with  great  wealth  of  detail,  but 
do  not,  and  cannot,  transmit  religious  feeling  not  possessed 
by  their  painters.  There  are  many  pictures  treating  of  the 
personal  feelings  of  various  people,  but  of  pictures  repre 
senting  great  deeds  of  self-sacrifice  and  of  Christian  love 
there  are  very  few,  and  what  there  are  are  principally  by 
artists  who  are  not  celebrated,  and  are,  for  the  most  part, 
not  pictures  but  merely  sketches.  Such,  for  instance,  is  the 
drawing  by  Kramskoy  (worth  many  of  his  finished  pictures), 
showing  a  drawing-room  with  a  balcony,  past  which  troops 
are  marching  in  triumph  on  their  return  from  the  war.  On 
the  balcony  stands  a  wet-nurse  holding  a  baby  and  a  boj. 
They  are  admiring  the  procession  of  the  troops,  but  the 
mother,  covering  her  face  with  a  handkerchief,  has  fallen 
back  on  the  sofa,  sobbing.  Such  also  is  the  picture  by 
A¥alter  Langley,  to  which  I  have  already  referred,  and  such 
again  is  a  picture  by  the  French  artist  Morion,  depicting 
a  lifeboat  hastening,  in  a  heavy  storm,  to  the  relief  of  a 
steamer  that  is  being  wrecked.  Approaching  these  in  kind 
are  pictures  which  represent  the  hard-working  peasant 
with  respect  and  love.  Such  are  the  pictures  by  Millet, 
and,  particularly,  his  drawing,  "The  Man  with  the  Hoe," 
also  pictures  in  this  style  by  Jules  Breton,  L'Hermitte, 
Defregger,  and  others.  As  examples  of  pictures  evoking 
indignation  and  horror  at  the  violation  of  love  to  God 
and  man,  Gay's  picture,  "  Judgment,"  may  serve,  and  also 
Leizen-Mayer's,  "Signing  the  Death  Warrant."  But  there 
are  also  very  few  of  this  kind.  Anxiety  about  the  technique 

i6S  WHAT  IS  ART? 

and  the  beauty  of  the  picture  for  the  most  part  obscures  the 
feeling.  For  instance,  Gerome's  "Pollice  Yerso  "  expresses, 
not  so  much  horror  at  what  is  being  perpetrated  as  attrac 
tion  by  the  beauty  of  the  spectacle.1 

To  give  examples,  from  the  modern  art  of  our  upper 
classes,  of  art  of  the  second  kind,  good  universal  art  or  even 
of  the  art  of  a  whole  people,  is  yet  more  difficult,  especially 
in  literary  art  and  music.  If  there  .are  some  works  which 
by  their  inner  contents  might  be  assigned  to  this  class 
(such  as  Don  Quixote,  Moliere's  comedies,  David  Copperfield 
and  The  Pickwick  Papers  by  Dickens,  Gogol's  and  Pushkin's 
tales,  and  some  things  of  Maupassant's),  these  works  are  for 
the  most  part — from  the  exceptional  nature  of  the  feelings 
they  transmit,  and  the  superfluity  of  special  details  of  time 
and  locality,  and,  above  all,  on  account  of  the  poverty  of  their 
subject-matter  in  comparison  with  examples  of  universal 
ancient  art  (such,  for  instance,  as  the  story  of  Joseph) — 
comprehensible  only  to  people  of  their  own  circle.  That 
Joseph's  brethren,  being  jealous  of  his  father's  afiection,  sell 
him  to  the  merchants ;  that  Potiphar's  wife  wishes  to  tempt 
the  youth  ;  that  having  attained  the  highest  station,  he  takes 
pity  on  his  brothers,  including  Benjamin  the  favourite, — 
these  and  all  the  rest  are  feelings  accessible  alike  to  a 
liussian  peasant,  a  Chinese,  an  African,  a  child,  or  an  old 
man,  educated  or  uneducated;  and  it  is  all  written  with 
such  restraint,  is  so  free  from  any  superfluous  detail,  that 
the  story  may  be  told  to  any  circle  and  will  be  equally 
comprehensible  and  touching  to  everyone.  But  not  such  are 
the  feelings  of  Don  Quixote  or  of  Moliere's  heroes  (though 
Moliere  is  perhaps  the  most  universal,  and  therefore  the 
most  excellent,  artist  of  modern  times),  nor  of  Pickwick 
and  his  friends.  These  feelings  are  not  common  to  all 

1  In  this  picture  the  spectators  in  the  Roman  Amphitheatre  are 
turning  down  their  thumbs  to  show  that  they  wish  the  vanquished 
gladiator  to  be  killed. — Trans. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  169 

men  but  very  exceptional,  and  therefore,  to  make  them 
infectious,  the  authors  have  surrounded  them  with  abundant 
details  of  time  and  place.  And  this  abundance  of  detail 
makes  the  stories  difficult  of  comprehension  to  all  people 
not  living  within  reach  of  the  conditions  described  by  the 

The  author  of  the  novel  of  Joseph  did  not  need  to 
describe  in  detail,  as  would  be  done  nowadays,  the  blood 
stained  coat  of  Joseph,  the  dwelling  and  dress  of  Jacob,  the 
pose  and  attire  of  Potiphar's  wife,  and  how,  adjusting  the 
bracelet  on  her  left  arm,  she  said,  "  Come  to  me,"  and  so  on, 
because  the  subject-matter  of  feelings  in  this  novel  is  so 
strong  that  all  details,  except  the  most  essential, — such  as 
that  Joseph  went  out  into  another  room  to  weep, — are 
superfluous,  and  would  only  hinder  the  transmission  of 
feelings.  And  therefore  this  novel  is  accessible  to  all  men, 
touches  people  of  all  nations  and  classes,  young  and  old, 
and  has  lasted  to  our  times,  and  will  yet  last  for  thousands 
of  years  to  come.  But  strip  the  best  novels  of  our  times  of 
their  details,  and  what  will  remain  ? 

It  is  therefore  impossible  in  modern  literature  to  indicate 
works  fully  satisfying  the  demands  of  universality.  Such 
works  as  exist  are,  to  a  great  extent,  spoilt  by  what  is 
usually  called  "realism,"  but  would  be  better  termed 
"provincialism,"  in  art. 

In  music  the  same  occurs  as  in  verbal  art,  and  for  similar 
reasons.  In  consequence  of  the  poorness  of  the  feeling 
they  contain,  the  melodies  of  the  modern  composers  are 
amazingly  empty  and  insignificant.  And  to  strengthen 
the  impression  produced  by  these  empty  melodies,  the  new 
musicians  pile  complex  modulations  on  to  each  trivial  melody, 
not  only  in  their  own  national  manner,  but  also  in  the  way 
characteristic  of  their  own  exclusive  circle  and  particular 
musical  school.  Melody — every  melody — is  free,  and  may 
be  understood  of  all  men ;  but  as  soon  as  it  is  bound  up 


with  a  particular  harmony,  it  ceases  to  be  accessible  except 
to  people  trained  to  such  harmony,  and  it  becomes  strange, 
not  only  to  common  men  of  another  nationality,  but  to 
all  who  do  not  belong  to  the  circle  whose  members  have 
accustomed  themselves  to  certain  forms  of  harmonisation. 
So  that  music,  like  poetry,  travels  in  a  vicious  circle. 
Trivial  and  exclusive  melodies,  in  order  to  make  them  attrac 
tive,  are  laden  with  harmonic,  rhythmic,  and  orchestral  com 
plications,  and  thus  become  yet  more  exclusive,  and  far 
from  being  universal  are  not  even  national,  i.e.  they  are  not 
comprehensible  to  the  whole  people  but  only  to  some 

In  music,  besides  marches  and  dances  by  various  composers, 
which  satisfy  the  demands  of  universal  art,  one  can  indicate 
very  few  works  of  this  class :  Bach's  famous  violin  aria, 
Chopin's  nocturne  in  E  flat  major,  and  perhaps  a  dozen  bits 
(not  whole  pieces,  but  parts)  selected  from  the  works  of 
Haydn,  Mozart,  Schubert,  Beethoven,  and  Chopin.1 

Although  in  painting  the  same  thing  is  repeated  as  in 
poetry  and  in  music, — namely,  that  in  order  to  make  them 
more  interesting,  works  weak  in  conception  are  surrounded 
by  minutely  studied  accessories  of  time  and  place,  which 
give  them  a  temporary  and  local  interest  but  make  them 

1  While  offering  as  examples  of  art  those  that  seem  to  me  the  best, 
I  attach  no  special  importance  to  my  selection  ;  for,  besides  being 
insufficiently  informed  in  all  branches  of  art,  I  belong  to  the  class 
of  people  whose  taste  has,  by  false  training,  been  perverted.  And 
therefore  my  old,  inured  habits  may  cause  me  to  err,  and  I  may 
mistake  for  absolute  merit  the  impression  a  work  produced  on  me  in 
my  youth.  My  only  purpose  in  mentioning  examples  of  works  of  this 
or  that  class  is  to  make  my  meaning  clearer,  and  to  show  how, 
with  my  present  views,  I  understand  excellence  in  art  in  relation 
to  its  subject-matter.  I  must,  moreover,  mention  that  I  consign  my 
own  artistic  productions  to  the  category  of  bad  art,  excepting  the 
story  God  sees  tliz  Truth,  which  seeks  a  place  in  the  first  class,  and 
The  Prisoner  of  the  Caucasus,  which  belongs  to  the  second. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  171 

less  universal,— still,  in  painting,  more  than  in  the  other 
spheres  of  art,  may  be  found  works  satisfying  the  demands 
of  universal  Christian  art;  that  is  to  say,  there  are  more 
works  expressing  feelings  in  which  all  men  may  participate. 

In  the  arts  of  painting  and  sculpture,  all  pictures  and 
statues  in  so-called  genre  style,  depictions  of  animals, 
landscapes  and  caricatures  with  subjects  comprehensible 
to  everyone,  and  also  all  kinds  of  ornaments,  are  universal 
in  subject-matter.  Such  productions  in  painting  and 
sculpture  are  very  numerous  (e.0.  china  dolls),  but  for 
the  most  part  such  objects  (for  instance,  ornaments  of  all 
kinds)  are  either  not  considered  to  be  art  or  are.  con 
sidered  to  be  art  of  a  low  quality.  In  reality  all  such 
objects,  if  only  they  transmit  a  true  feeling  experienced 
by  the  artist  and  comprehensible  to  everyone  (however 
insignificant  it  may  seem  to  us  to  be)  are  works  of  real, 
good,  Christian  art. 

I  fear  it  will  here  be  urged  against  me  that  having  denied 
that  the  conception  of  beauty  can  supply  a  standard  for 
works  of  art,  I  contradict  myself  by  acknowledging  orna 
ments  to  be  works  of  good  art.  The  reproach  is  unjust,  for 
the  subject-matter  of  all  kinds  of  ornamentation  consists  not 
in  the  beauty,  but  in  the  feeling  (of  admiration  of,  and 
delight  in,  the  combination  of  lines  and  colours)  which  the 
artist  has  experienced  and  with  which  he  infects  the 
spectator.  Art  remains  what  it  was  and  what  it  must  be  : 
nothing  but  the  infection  by  one  man  of  another,  or  of 
others,  with  the  feelings  experienced  by  the  infectur. 
Among  those  feelings  is  the  feeling  of  delight  at  what 
pleases  the  sight.  Objects  pleasing  the  sight  may  be  such 
as  please  a  small  or  a  large  number  of  people,  or  such  as 
please  all  men.  And  ornaments  for  the  most  part  are  of 
the  latter  kind.  A  landscape  representing  a  very  unusual 
view,  or  a  genre  picture  of  a  special  subject,  may  not 
please  everyone,  but  ornaments,  from  Yakutsk  ornaments  to 

1 72  WHAT  IS  ART? 

Greek  ones,  are  intelligible  to  everyone  and  evoke  a  similar 
feeling  of    admiration  in  all,   and    therefore  this    despised 
kind  of  art  should,  in  Christian  society,  be  esteemed   far 
above  exceptional,  pretentious  pictures  and  sculptures. 
So  that  there  are  only  two  kinds  of  good  Christian  art : 

•  all  the  rest  of  art  not  comprised  in  these  two  divisions 
should  be  acknowledged  to  be  bad  art,  deserving  not  to  be 
encouraged  but  to  be  driven  out,  denied  and  despised,  as 

Nbeing  art  not  uniting  but  dividing  people.  Such,  in  literary 
art,  are  all  novels  and  poems  which  transmit  Church  or 
patriotic  feelings,  and  also  exclusive  feelings  pertaining  only 
to  the  class  of  the  idle  rich;  such  as  aristocratic  honour, 
satiety,  spleen,  pessimism,  and  refined  and  vicious  feelings 
flowing  from  sex-love — quite  incomprehensible  to  the  great 
majority  of  mankind. 

In  painting  we  must  similarly  place  in  the  class  of  bad 
art  all  the  Church,  patriotic,  and  exclusive  pictures;  all 
the  pictures  representing  the  amusements  and  allurements 
of  a  rich  and  idle  life ;  all  the  so-called  symbolic  pictures,  in 
which  the  very  meaning  of  the  symbol  is  comprehensible 
only  to  the  people  of  a  certain  circle ;  and,  above  all,  pictures 
with  voluptuous  subjects  —  all  that  odious  female  nudity 
which  fills  all  the  exhibitions  and  galleries.  And  to  this 
class  belongs  almost  all  the  chamber  and  opera  music  of  our 
times, — beginning  especially  from  Beethoven  (Schumann, 
Berlioz,  Liszt,  Wagner), — by  its  subject-matter  devoted  to 
the  expression  of  feelings  accessible  only  to  people  who 
have  developed  in  themselves  an  unhealthy,  nervous  irrita 
tion  evoked  by  this  exclusive,  artificial,  and  complex 

"  What !  the  Ninth  Symphony  not  a  good  work  of  art ! " 
I  hear  exclaimed  by  indignant  voices. 

And  I  reply :  Most  certainly  it  is  not.  All  that  I  have 
written  I  have  written  with  the  sole  purpose  of  finding 
a  clear  and  reasonable  criterion  by  which  to  judge  the 

WHAT  IS  ART?  173 

merits  of  works  of  art.  And  this  criterion,  coinciding 
with  the  indications  of  plain  and  sane  sense,  indubitably 
shows  me  that  that  symphony  by  Beethoven  is  not  a 
good  work  of  art.  Of  course,  to  people  educated  in  the 
adoration  of  certain  productions  and  of  their  authors,  to 
people  whose  taste  has  been  perverted  just  by  being  educated 
in  such  adoration,  the  acknowledgment  that  such  a  cele 
brated  work  is  bad  is  amazing  and  strange.  But  how  are 
we  to  escape  the  indications  of  reason  and  of  common  sense  ? 
Beethoven's  Ninth  Symphony  is  considered  a  great  work 
of  art.  To  verify  its  claim  to  be  such,  I  must  first  ask  myself 
whether  this  work  transmits  the  highest  religious  feeling? 
I  reply  in  the  negative,  for  music  in  itself  cannot  transmit 
those  feelings ;  and  therefore  I  ask  myself  next,  Since  this 
work  does  not  belong  to  the  highest  kind  of  religious  art, 
has  it  the  other  characteristic  of  the  good  art  of  our  time, — 
the  quality  of  uniting  all  men  in  one  common  feeling : 
does  it  rank  as  Christian  universal  art  1  And  again  I  have 
no  option  but  to  reply  in  the  negative ;  for  not  only  do  I 
not  see  how  the  feelings  transmitted  by  this  work  could 
unite  people  not  specially  trained  to  submit  themselves  to 
its  complex  hypnotism,  but  I  am  unable  to  imagine  to 
myself  a  crowd  of  normal  people  who  could  understand 
anything  of  this  long,  confused,  and  artificial  production, 
except  short  snatches  which  are  lost  in  a  sea  of  what  is 
incomprehensible.  And  therefore,  whether  I  like  it  or  not,  I 
am  compelled  to  conclude  that  this  work  belongs  to  the 
rank  of  bad  art.  It  is  curious  to  note  in  this  connection, 
that  attached  to  the  end  of  this  very  symphony  is  a  poem 
of  Schiller's  which  (though  somewhat  obscurely)  expresses 
this  very  thought,  namely,  that  feeling  (Schiller  speaks 
only  of  the  feeling  of  gladness)  unites  people  and  evokes 
love  in  them.  But  though  this  poem  is  sung  at  the  end  of 
the  symphony,  the  music  does  not  accord  with  the  thought 
expressed  in  the  verses ;  for  the  music  is  exclusive  and  does 

174  WHAT  IS  ART'* 

not  unite  all  men,  but  unites  only  a  few,  dividing  them  of! 
from  the  rest  of  mankind. 

And,  just  in  this  same  way,  in  all  branches  of  art,  many 
and  many  works  considered  great  by  the  upper  classes  of  our 
society  will  have  to  be  judged.  By  this  one  sure  criterion 
we  shall  have  to  judge  the  celebrated  Divine  Comedy  and 
Jerusalem  Delivered,  and  a  great  part  of  Shakespeare's  and 
Goethe's  works,  and  in  painting  every  representation  of 
miracles,  including  Raphael's  "  Transfiguration,"  etc. 

Whatever  the  work  may  be  and  however  it  may  have 
been  extolled,  we  have  first  to  ask  whether  this  work  is  one 
of  real  art  or  a  counterfeit.  Having  acknowledged,  on  the 
basis  of  the  indication  of  its  infectiousness  even  to  a  small 
class  of  people,  that  a  certain  production  belongs  to  the 
realm  of  art,  it  is  necessary,  on  the  basis  of  the  indication 
of  its  accessibility,  to  decide  the  next  question,  Does  this 
work  belong  to  the  category  of  bad,  exclusive  art,  opposed 
to  religious  perception,  or  to  Christian  art,  uniting  people! 
And  having  acknowledged  an  article  to  belong  to  real 
Christian  art,  we  must  then,  according  to  whether  it 
transmits  the  feelings  flowing  from  love  to  God  and  man, 
or  merely  the  simple  feelings  uniting  all  men,  assign  it  a 
place  in  the  ranks  of  religious  art  or  in  those  of  universal  art. 
Only  on  the  basis  of  such  verification  shall  we  find  it 
possible  to  select  from  the  whole  mass  of  what,  in  our 
;  society,  claims  to  be  art,  those  works  which  form  real, 
\  important,  necessary  spiritual  food,  and  to  separate  them 
from  all  the  harmful  and  useless  art,  and  from  the  counter 
feits  of  art  which  surround  us.  Only  on  the  basis  of  such 
verification  shall  we  be  able  to  rid  ourselves  of  the  pernicious 
results  of  harmful  art,  and  to  avail  ourselves  of  that  bene 
ficent  action  which  is  the  purpose  of  true  and  good  art,  and 
which  is  indispensable  for  the  spiritual  life  of  man  and  of 


ART  is  one  of  two  organs  of  human  progress.  By  words  man 
interchanges  thoughts,  by  the  forms  of  art  he  interchanges 
feelings,  and  this  with  all  men,  not  only  of  the  present 
time,  but  also  of  the  past  and  the  future.  It  is  natural  to 
human  beings  to  employ  both  these  organs  of  intercom 
munication,  and  therefore  the  perversion  of  either  of  them 
must  cause  evil  results  to  the  society  in  which  it  occurs. 
And  these  results  will  be  of  two  kinds :  first,  the  absence, 
in  that  society,  of  the  work  which  should  be  performed  by 
the  organ ;  and  secondly,  the  harmful  activity  of  the  per 
verted  organ.  And  just  these  results  have  shown  them 
selves  in  our  society.  The  organ  of  art  has  been  perverted, 
and  therefore  the  upper  classes  of  society  have,  to  a  great 
extent,  been  deprived  of  the  work  that  it  should  have 
performed.  The  diffusion  in  our  society  of  enormous 
quantities  of,  on  the  one  hand,  those  counterfeits  of  art 
which  only  serve  to  amuse  and  corrupt  people,  arid,  on 
the  other  hand,  of  works  of  insignificant,  exclusive  art, 
mistaken  for  the  highest  art,  have  perverted  most  men's 
capacity  to  be  infected  by  true  works  of  art,  and  have 
thus  deprived  them  of  the  possibility  of  experiencing  the 
highest  feelings  to  which  mankind  has  attained,  and  which 
can  only  be  transmitted  from  man  to  man  by  art. 

All  the  best  that  has  been  done  in  art  by  man  remains 
strange  to  people  who  lack  the  capacity  to  be  infected  by 
art,  and  is  replaced  either  by  spurious  counterfeits  of  art 
or  by  insignificant  art,  which  they  mistake  for  real  art. 


176  WHAT  IS  ART? 

People  of  our  time  and  of  our  society  are  delighted  with 
Baudelaires,  Verlaines,  More"ases,  Ibsens,  and  Maeterlincks 
in  poetry ;  with  Monets,  Manets,  Puvis  de  Chavannes, 
Burne- Joneses,  Stucks,  and  Bocklins  in  painting;  with 
Wagners,  Listzs,  Kichard  Strausses,  in  music ;  and  they 
are  no  longer  capable  of  comprehending  either  the  highest 
or  the  simplest  art. 

In  the  upper  classes,  in  consequence  of  this  loss  of 
capacity  to  be  infected  ^by  works  of  art,  people  grow  up,  are 
educated,  and  live,  lacking  the  fertilising,  improving  influ 
ence  of  art,  and  therefore  not  only  do  not  advance  towards 
perfection,  do  not  become  kinder,  but,  on  the  contrary, 
possessing  highly-developed  external  means  of  civilisation, 
they  yet  tend  to  become  continually  more  savage,  more 
coarse,  and  more  cruel. 

Such  is  the  result  of  the  absence  from  our  society  of  the 
activity  of  that  essential  organ — art.  But  the  consequences 
of  the  perverted  activity  of  that  organ  are  yet  more  harmful. 
And  they  are  numerous. 

The  first  consequence,  plain  for  all  to  see,  is  the  enormous 
expenditure  of  the  labour  of  working  people  on  things  which 
are  not  only  useless,  but  which,  for  the  most  part,  are  harm 
ful  ;  and  more  than  that,  the  waste  of  priceless  human  lives 
on  this  unnecessary  and  harmful  business.  It  is  terrible  to 
consider  with  what  intensity,  and  amid  what  privations, 
millions  of  people — who  lack  time  and  opportunity  to  attend 
to  what  they  and  their  families  urgently  require — labour 
for  10,  12,  or  14  hours  on  end,  and  even  at  night,  setting 
the  type  for  pseudo-artistic  books  which  spread  vice  among 
mankind,  or  working  for  theatres,  concerts,  exhibitions,  and 
picture  galleries,  which,  for  the  most  part,  also  serve  vice  J 
but  it  is  yet  more  terrible  to  reflect  that  lively,  kindly 
children,  capable  of  all  that  is  good,  are  devoted  from  their 
early  years  to  such  tasks  as  these:  that  for  6,  8,  or  10 
hours  a  day,  and  for  10  or  15  years,  some  of  them  should 

WHAT  IS  ART?  177 

play  scales  and  exorcises ;  others  should  twist  their  limbs, 
walk  on  their  toes,  and  lift  their  legs  above  their  heads ; 
a  third  set  should  sing  solfeggios  ;  a  fourth  set,  showing 
themselves  off  in  all  manner  of  ways,  should  pronounce 
verses ;  a  fifth  set  should  draw  from  busts  or  from  nude 
models  and  paint  studies ;  a  sixth  set  should  write  compo 
sitions  according  to  the  rules  of  certain  periods ;  and  that 
in  these  occupations,  unworthy  of  a  human  being,  which  are 
often  continued  long  after  full  maturity,  they  should  waste 
their  physical  and  mental  strength  and  lose  all  perception 
of  the  meaning  of  life.  It  is  often  said  that  it  is  horrible 
and  pitiful  to  see  little  acrobats  putting  their  legs  over 
their  necks,  but  it  is  not  less  pitiful  to  see  children  of  10 
giving  concerts,  and  it  is  still  worse  to  see  schoolboys  of 
10  who,  as  a  preparation  for  literary  work,  have  learnt  by 
heart  the  exceptions  to  the  Latin  grammar.  These  people  not 
only  grow  physically  and  mentally  deformed,  but  also  morally 
deformed,  and  become  incapable  of  doing  anything  really 
needed  by  man.  Occupying  in  society  the  role  of  amusers  of 
the  rich,  they  lose  their  sense  of  human  dignity,  and  develop 
in  themselves  such  a  passion  for  public  applause  that  they 
are  ahvays  a  prey  to  an  inflated  and  unsatisfied  vanity 
which  grows  in  them  to  diseased  dimensions,  and  they  ex 
pend  their  mental  strength  in  efforts  to  obtain  satisfaction 
for  this  passion.  And  what  is  most  tragic  of  all  is  that 
these  people,  who  for  the  sake  of  art  are  spoilt  for  life, 
not  only  do  not  render  service  to  this  art,  but,  on  the 
contrary,  inflict  the  greatest  harm  on  it.  They  are  taught 
in  academies,  schools,  and  conservatoires  how  to  counterfeit 
art,  and  by  learning  this  they  so  pervert  themselves  that 
they  quite  lose  the  capacity  to  produce  works  of  real  art, 
and  become  purveyors  of  that  counterfeit,  or  trivial,  or 
depraved  art  which  floods  our  society.  This  is  the  first 
obvious  consequence  of  the  perversion  of  the  organ  of 

178  WHAT  IS  ART? 

The  second  consequence  is  that  the  productions  of  amuse- 
nient-art,  which  are  prepared  in  such  terrific  quantities  by 
the  armies  of  professional  artists,  enable  the  rich  people  of 
our  times  to  live  the  lives  they  do,  lives  not  only  unnatural 
but  in  contradiction  to  the  humane  principles  these  people 
themselves  profess.  To  live  as  do  the  rich,  idle  people, 
especially  the  women,  far  from  nature  and  from  animals, 
in  artificial  conditions,  with  muscles  atrophied  or  inis- 
developed  by  gymnastics,  and  with  enfeebled  vital  energy 
would  be  impossible  were  it  not  for  what  is  called  art — 
for  this  occupation  and  amusement  which  hides  from  them 
the  meaninglessness  of  their  lives,  and  saves  them  from 
the  dulness  that  oppresses  them.  Take  from  all  these 
people  the  theatres,  concerts,  exhibitions,  piano  -  playing, 
songs,  and  novels,  with  which  they  now  fill  their  time 
in  full  confidence  that  occupation  with  these  things  is 
a  very  refined,  sesthetical,  and  therefore  good  occupation; 
take  from  the  patrons  of  art  who  buy  pictures,  assist 
musicians,  and  are  acquainted  with  writers,  their  role  of 
protectors  of  that  important  matter  art,  and  they  will 
not  be  able  to  continue  such  a  life,  but  will  all  be  eaten 
up  by  ennui  and  spleen,  and  will  become  conscious  of 
the  meaninglessness  and  wrongness  of  their  present  mode 
of  life.  Only  occupation  with  what,  among  them,  is  con 
sidered  art,  renders  it  possible  for  them  to  continue  to 
live  on,  infringing  all  natural  conditions,  without  per 
ceiving  the  emptiness  and  cruelty  of  their  lives.  And  this 
support  afforded  to  the  false  manner  of  life  pursued  by 
the  rich  is  the  second  consequence,  and  a  serious  one,  of 
the  perversion  of  art. 

The  third  consequence  of  the  perversion  of  art  is  the 
perplexity  produced  in  the  minds  of  children  and  of  plain 
folk. .  Among  people  not  perverted  by  the  false  theories 
of  our  society,  among  workers  and  children,  there  exists  a 
very  definite  conception  of  what  people  may  be  respected 

WHAT  IS  ART?  179 

and  praised  for.  In  the  minds  of  peasants  and  children 
the  ground  for  praise  or  eulogy  can  only  be  either  physical 
strength :  Hercules,  the  heroes  and  conquerors ;  or  moral, 
spiritual,  strength :  Sakya  Muni  giving  up  a  beautiful  wife 
and  a  kingdom  to  save  mankind,  Christ  going  to  the 
cross  for  the  truth  he  professed,  and  all  the  martyrs 
and  the  saints.  Both  are  understood  by  peasants  and 
children.  They  understand  that  physical  strength  must  be 
respected,  for  it  compels  respect ;  and  the  moral  strength 
of  goodness  an  unperverted  man  cannot  fail  to  respect, 
because  all  his  spiritual  being  draws  him  towards  it.  But 
these  people,  children  and  peasants,  suddenly  perceive  that 
besides  those  praised,  respected,  and  rewarded  for  physical  or 
moral  strength,  there  are  others  who  are  praised,  extolled, 
and  rewarded  much  more  than  the  heroes  of  strength  and 
virtue,  merely  because  they  sing  well,  compose  verses,  or 
dance.  They  see  that  singers,  composers,  painters,  ballet- 
dancers,  earn  millions  of  roubles  and  receive  more  honour 
than  the  saints  do :  and  peasants  and  children  are  per 

When  50  years  had  elapsed  after  Pushkin's  death,  and, 
simultaneously,  the  cheap  edition  of  his  works  began  to 
circulate  among  the  people  and  a  monument  was  erected  to 
him  in  Moscow,  I  received  more  than  a  dozen  letters  from 
different  peasants  asking  why  Pushkin  was  raised  to  such 
dignity  ?  And  only  the  other  day  a  literate l  man  from 
Saratoff  called  on  me  who  had  evidently  gone  out  of  his 
mind  over  this  very  question.  He  was  on  his  way  to 
Moscow  to  expose  the  clergy  for  having  taken  part  in 
raising  a  "monament"  to  Mr.  Pushkin. 

Indeed  one  need  only  imagine  to  oneself  what  the  state  of 

1  In  Russian  it  is  customary  to  make  a  distinction  between  literate 
and  illiterate  people,  i.e.  between  those  who  can  and  those  who  can 
not  read.  Literate  in  this  sense  does  not  imply  that  the  man  would 
speak  or  write  correctly. — Trans. 

i8o  WHAT  IS  ART? 

mind  of  such  a  man  of  the  people  must  be  when  he  learns, 
from  such  rumours  and  newspapers  as  reach  him,  that  the 
clergy,  the  Government  officials,  and  all  the  best  people  in 
Russia  are  triumphantly  unveiling  a  statue  to  a  great  man, 
the  benefactor,  the  pride  of  Russia — Pushkin,  of  whom  till 
then  he  had  never  heard.  From  all  sides  ho  reads  or  hears 
about  this,  and  he  naturally  supposes  that  if  such  honours 
are  rendered  to  anyone,  then  without  doubt  he  must  have 
done  something  extraordinary — either  some  feat  of  strength 
or  of  goodness.  He  tries  to  learn  who  Pushkin  was,  and 
having  discovered  that  Pushkin  was  neither  a  hero  nor  a 
general,  but  was  a  private  person  and  a  writer,  he  comes  to 
the  conclusion  that  Pushkin  must  have  been  a  holy  man 
and  a  teacher  of  goodness,  and  he  hastens  to  read  or  to  hear 
his  life  and  works.  But  what  must  be  his  perplexity  when 
he  learns  that  Pushkin  was  a  man  of  more  than  easy 
morals,  who  was  killed  in  a  duel,  i.e.  when  attempting 
to  murder  another  man,  and  that  all  his  service  consisted 
in  writing  verses  about  love,  which  were  often  very 

That  a  hero,  or  Alexander  the  Great,  or  Genghis  Khan,  or 
Napoleon  were  great,  he  understands,  because  any  one  of  them 
could  have  crushed  him  and  a  thousand  like  him ;  that 
Buddha,  Socrates,  and  Christ  were  great  he  also  understands, 
for  he  knows  and  feels  that  he  and  all  men  should  be  such 
as  they  were  ;  but  why  a  man  should  be  great  because  he 
wrote  verses  about  the  love  of  women  he  cannot  make  out. 

A  similar  perplexity  must  trouble  the  brain  of  a  Breton 
or  Norman  peasant  who  hears  that  a  monument,  "  une 
statue  "  (as  to  the  Madonna),  is  being  erected  to  Baudelaire, 
and  reads,  or  is  told,  what  the  contents  of  his  Fleurs  du  Mai 
are ;  or,  more  amazing  still,  to  Yerlaine,  when  he  learns  the 
story  of  that  man's  wretched,  vicious  life,  and  reads  his 
verses.  And  what  confusion  it  must  cause  in  the  brains 
of  peasants  when  they  learn  that  some  Patti  or  Taglioni 

WHAT  IS  ART?  181 

is  paid  £10,000  for  a  season,  or  that  a  painter  gets  as 
much  for  a  picture,  or  that  authors  of  novels  describing 
love-scenes  have  received  even  more  than  that. 

And  it  is  the  same  with  children.  I  remember  how  I 
passed  through  this  stage  of  amazement  and  stupefaction, 
and  only  reconciled  myself  to  this  exaltation  of  artists 
to  the  level  of  heroes  and  saints  by  lowering  in  my  own 
estimation  the  importance  of  moral  excellence,  and  by 
attributing  a  false,  unnatural  meaning  to  works  of  art.  And 
a  similar  confusion  must  occur  in  the  soul  of  each  child 
and  each  man  of  the  people  when  he  learns  of  the  strange 
honours  and  rewards  that  are  lavished  on  artists.  This  is 
the  third  consequence  of  the  false  relation  in  which  our 
society  stands  towards  art. 

The  fourth  consequence  is  that  people  of  the  upper 
classes,  more  and  more  frequently  encountering  the  contra 
dictions  between  beauty  and  goodness,  put  the  ideal  of 
beauty  first,  thus  freeing  themselves  from  the  demands 
of  morality.  These  people,  reversing  the  roles,  instead  of 
admitting,  as  is  really  the  case,  that  the  art  they  serve  is 
an  antiquated  affair,  allege  that  morality  is  an  antiquated 
affair,  which  can  have  no  importance  for  people  situated  on 
that  high  plane  of  development  on  which  they  opine  that 
they  are  situated. 

This  result  of  the  false  relation  to  art  showed  itself  in 
our  society  long  ago  ;  but  recently,  with  its  prophet  Nietzsche 
and  his  adherents,  and  with  the  decadents  and  certain 
English  aesthetes  who  coincide  with  him,  it  is  being 
expressed  with  especial  impudence.  The  decadents,  and 
aesthetes  of  the  type  at  one  time  represented  by  Oscar  Wilde, 
select  as  a  theme  for  their  productions  the  denial  of  morality 
and  the  laudation  of  vice. 

This  art  has  partly  generated,  and  partly  coincides  with, 
a  similar  philosophic  theory.  I  recently  received  from 
America  a  book  entitled  "  The  Survival  of  the  Fittest : 

1 82  WHAT  IS  ART? 

Philosophy  of  Power,  1896,  by  Ragnar  Redbeard,  Chicago." 
The  substance  of  this  book,  as  it  is  expressed  in  the  editor's 
preface,  is  that  to  measure  "  right "  by  the  false  philosophy 
of  the  Hebrew  prophets  and  "  weepful "  Messiahs  is  mad 
ness.  Right  is  not  the  offspring  of  doctrine  but  of  power. 
All  laws,  commandments,  or  doctrines  as  to  not  doing  to 
another  Avhat  you  do  not  wish  done  to  you,  have  no 
inherent  authority  whatever,  but  receive  it  only  from 
the  club}  the  gallows,  and  the  sword.  A  man  truly  free 
is  under  no  obligation  to  obey  any  injunction,  human  or 
divine.  Obedience  is  the  sign  of  the  degenerate.)  Dis 
obedience  is  the  stamp  of  the  hero.  Men  should  not  be 
bound  by  moral  rules  invented  by  their  foes.  The  whole 
world  is  a  slippery  battlefield.  Ideal  justice  demands 
that  the  vanquished  should  be  exploited,  emasculated,  and 
scorned.  The  free  and  brave  may  seize  the  world.  And, 
therefore,  there  should  be  eternal  war  for  life,  for  land, 
for  love,  for  women,  for  power,  and  for  gold.  (Something 
similar  was  said  a  few  years  ago  by  the  celebrated  and 
refined  academician,  Vogue*. )  The  earth  and  its  treasures  is 
"  booty  for  the  bold. "V> 

The  author  has  evidently  by  himself,  independently  of 
Nietzsche,  come  to  the  same  conclusions  which  are  professed 
by  the  new  artists. 

Expressed  in  the  form  of  a  doctrine  these  positions  startle 
us.  In  reality  they  are  implied  in  the  ideal  of  art  serving 
beauty.  The  art  of  our  upper  classes  has  educated  people 
in  this  ideal  of  the  over-man,1 — which  is,  in  reality,  the 
old  ideal  of  Nero,  Stenka  Razin,2  Genghis  Khan,  Robert 

1  The  over-man  (Uebermensch),  in  the  Nietzschean  philosophy,  is 
that  superior  type  of  man  whom  the  struggle  for  existence  is  to  evolve, 
and  who  will  seek  only  his  own  power  and  pleasure,  will  know  nothing 
of  pity,  and  will  have  the  right,  because  he  will  possess  the  power,  to 
make  ordinary  people  serve  him. — Trans. 

2  Stenka  Razin  was  by  origin  a  common  Cossack.     His  brother  was 

WHAT  IS  ART?  183 

Macaire,1  or  Napoleon,  and  all  their  accomplices,  assist 
ants,  and  adulators — and  it  supports  this  ideal  with  all  its 

It  is  this  supplanting  of  the  ideal  of  what  is  right  by 
the  ideal  of  what  is  beautiful,  i.e.  of  what  is  pleasant, 
that  is  the  fourth  consequence,  and  a  terrible  one,  of 
the  perversion  of  art  in  our  society.  It  is  fearful  to 
think  of  what  would  befall  humanity  were  such  art  to 
spread  among  the  masses  of  the  people.  And  it  already 
begins  to  spread. 

Finally,  the  fifth  and  chief  result  is,  that  the  art  which 
nourishes  in  the  upper  classes  of  European  society  has  a 
directly  vitiating  influence,  infecting  people  with  the  worst 
feelings  and  with  those  most  harmful  to  humanity — supersti 
tion,  patriotism,  and,  above  all,  sensuality. 

Look  carefully  into  the  causes  of  the  ignorance  of  the 
masses,  and  you  may  see  that  the  chief  cause  does  not  at  all 
lie  in  the  lack  of  schools  and  libraries,  as  we  are  accustomed 
to  suppose,  but  in  those  superstitions,  both  ecclesiastical 
and  patriotic,  with  which  the  people  are  saturated,  and 
which  are  unceasingly  generated  by  all  the  methods  of  art. 
Church  superstitions  are  supported  and  produced  by  the 

hung  for  a  breach  of  military  discipline,  and  to  this  event  Stenka 
Razin's  hatred  of  the  governing  classes  has  been  attributed.  He 
formed  a  robber  band,  and  subsequently  headed  a  formidable  re 
bellion,  declaring  himself  in  favour  of  freedom  for  the  serfs,  religious 
toleration,  and  the  abolition  of  taxes.  Like  the  Government  lie 
opposed,  he  relied  on  force,  and,  though  he  used  it  largely  in  defence 
of  the  poor  against  the  rich,  he  still  held  to 

"  The  good  old  rule,  the  simple  plan, 
That  they  should  take  who  have  the  power. 
And  they  should  keep  who  can." 

Like  Robin  Hood  he  is  favourably  treated  in  popular  legends. — 

1  Robert  Macaire  is  a  modern  type  of  adroit  and  audacious  rascality. 
He  was  the  hero  of  a  popular  play  produced  in  Paris  in  1834.— Trans. 

1 84    }  WHAT  IS  ART? 

poetry  of  prayers,  hymns,  painting,  by  the  sculpture  of 
images  and  of  statues,  by  singing,  by  organs,  by  music,  by 
architecture,  and  even  by  dramatic  art  in  religious  ceremonies. 
Patriotic  superstitions  are  supported  and  produced  by  verses 
and  stories,  which  are  supplied  even  in  schools,  by  music, 
by  songs,  by  triumphal  processions,  by  royal  meetings,  by 
martial  pictures,  and  by  monuments. 

Were  it  not  for  this  continual  activity  in  all  departments 
of  art,  perpetuating  the  ecclesiastical  and  patriotic  intoxica 
tion  and  embitterment  of  the  people,  the  masses  would 
long  ere  this  have  attained  to  true  enlightenment. 

But  it  is  not  only  in  Church  matters  and  patriotic 
matters  that  art  depraves ;  it  is  art  in  our  time  that  serves 
as  the  chief  cause  of  the  perversion  of  people  in  the  most 
important  question  of  social  life — in  their  sexual  relations. 
We  nearly  all  know  by  our  own  experience,  and  those  who 
are  fathers  and  mothers  know  in  the  case  of  their  grown-up 
children  also,  what  fearful  mental  and  physical  suffering, 
what  useless  waste  of  strength,  people  suffer  merely  as  a 
consequence  of  dissoluteness  in  sexual  desire. 

Since  the  world  began,  since  the  Trojan  war,  which 
sprang  from  that  same  sexual  dissoluteness,  down  to  and 
including  the  suicides  and  murders  of  lovers  described  in 
almost  every  newspaper,  a  great  proportion  of  the  sufferings 
of  the  human  race  have  come  from  this  source. 

And  what  is  art  doing  ?  All  art,  real  and  counterfeit,  with 
very  few  exceptions,  is  devoted  to  describing,  depicting,  and 
inflaming  sexual  love  in  every  shape  and  form.  When  one 
remembers  all  those  novels  and  their  lust-kindling  descrip 
tions  of  love,  from  the  most  refined  to  the  grossest,  with 
which  the  literature  of  our  society  overflows;  if  one. only 
remembers  all  those  pictures  and  statues  representing 
women's  naked  bodies,  and  all  sorts  of  abominations  which 
are  reproduced  in  illustrations  and  advertisements ;  if  one 
only  remembers  all  the  filthy  operas  and  operettas,  songs 

WHAT  IS  ART?  185 

and  romances  with  which  our  world  teems,  involuntarily 
it  seems  as  if  existing  art  had  but  one  definite  aim — to 
disseminate  vice  as  widely  as  possible. 

Such,  though  not  all,  are  the  most  direct  consequences  of 
that  perversion  of  art  which  has  occurred  in  our  society. 
So  that,  what  in  our  society  is  called  art  not  only  does  not 
conduce  to  the  progress  of  mankind,  but,  more  than  almost 
anything  else,  hinders  the  attainment  of  goodness  in  our 

And  therefore  the  question  which  involuntarily  presents 
itself  to  every  man  free  from  artistic  activity  and  therefore 
not  bound  to  existing  art  by  self-interest,  the  question 
asked  by  me  at  the  beginning  of  this  work :  Is  it  just  that 
to  what  we  call  art,  to  a  something  belonging  to  but  a  small 
section  of  society,  should  be  offered  up  such  sacrifices  of 
human  labour,  of  human  lives,  and  of  goodness  as  are  now 
being  offered  up  ?  receives  the  natural  reply  :  No  j  it  is  un 
just,  and  these  things  should  not  be  !  So  also  replies  sound 
sense  and  unperverted  moral  feeling.  Not  only  should 
these  things  not  be,  not  only  should  no  sacrifices  be  offered 
up  to  what  among  us  is  called  art,  but,  on  the  contrary, 
the  efforts  of  those  who  wish  to  live  rightly  should  be 
directed  towards  the  destruction  of  this  art,  for  it  is  one 
of  the  most  cruel  of  the  evils  that  harass  our  section  of 
humanity.  So  that,  were  the  question  put :  Would  it  be 
preferable  for  our  Christian  world  to  be  deprived  of  all 
that  is  now  esteemed  to  be  art,  and,  together  with  the 
false,  to  lose  all  that  is  good  in  it?  I  think  that  every 
reasonable  and  moral  man  would  again  decide  the  question 
as  Plato  decided  it  for  his  Republic,  and  as  all  the  Church 
Christian  and  Mahommedan  teachers  of  mankind  decided 
it,  i.e.  would  say,  "Rather  let  there  be  no  art  at  all  than  <•— 
continue  the  depraving  art,  or  simulation  of  art,  which  now 
exists."  Happily,  no  one  has  to  face  this  question,  and  no 
one  need  adopt  either  solution.  All  that  man  can  do,  and 

i86  WHAT  IS  ART? 

that  we — the  so-called  educated  people,  who  are  so  placed 
that  we  have  the  possibility  of  understanding  the  meaning 
of  the  phenomena  of  our  life — can  and  should  do,  is  to 
understand  the  error)  we  are  involved  in,  and  not  harden  our 
hearts  in  it  but  seek  for  a  way  of  escape. 


THE  cause  of  the  lie  into  which  the  art  of  our  society  has 
fallen  was  that  people  of  the  upper  classes,  having  ceased 
to  believe  in  the  Church  teaching  (called  Christian),  did  not 
resolve  to  accept  true  Christian  teaching  in  its  real  and 
fundamental  principles  of  sonship  to  God  and  brotherhood 
to  man,  but  continued  to  live  on  without  any  belief,  en 
deavouring  to  make  up  for  the  absence  of  belief — some  by 
hypocrisy,  pretending  still  to  believe  in  the  nonsense  of  the 
Church  creeds  ;  others  by  boldly  asserting  their  disbelief  ; 
others  by  refined  agnosticism ;  and  others,  again,  by  return 
ing  to  the  Greek  worship  of  beauty,  proclaiming  egotism  to 
be  right,  and  elevating  it  to  the  rank  of  a  religious  doctrine. 
The  cause  of  the  malady  was  the  non-acceptance  of  Christ's 
teaching  in  its  real,  i.e.  its  full,  meaning.  And  the  only  cure 
for  the  illness  lies  in  acknowledging  that  teaching  in  its 
full  meaning.  And  such  acknowledgment  in  our  time  is 
not  only  possible  but  inevitable.  Already  to-day  a  man, 
standing  on  the  height  of  the  knowledge  of  our  age,  whether 
he  be  nominally  a  Catholic  or  a  Protestant,  cannot  say  that 
he  really  believes  in  the  dogmas  of  the  Church:  in  God 
being  a  Trinity,  in  Christ  being  God,  in  the  scheme  of 
redemption,  and  so  forth  •  nor  can  he  satisfy  himself  by  pro 
claiming  his  unbelief  or  scepticism,  nor  by  relapsing  into 
the  worship  of  beauty  and  egotism.  Above  all,  he  can  no 
longer  say  that  we  do  not  know  the  real  meaning  of  Christ's 
teaching.  That  meaning  has  not  only  become  accessible  to 
all  men  of  our  times,  but  the  whole  life  of  man  to-day  is 

i88  WHAT  IS  ART? 

permeated  by  the  spirit  of  that  teaching,  and,  consciously 
or  unconsciously,  is  guided  by  it. 

However  differently  in  form  people  belonging  to  our 
Christian  world  may  define  the  destiny  of  man;  whether 
they  see  it  in  human  progress  in  whatever  sense  of  the 
words,  in  the  union  of  all  men  in  a  socialistic  realm,  or 
in  the  establishment  of  a  commune  ;  whether  they  look 
forward  to  the  union  of  mankind  under  the  guidance  of 
one  universal  Church,  or  to  the  federation  of  the  world, — 
however  various  in  form  their  definitions  of  the  destination 
of  human  life  may  be,  all  men  in  our  times  already  admit 
that  the  highest  well  -being  attainable  by  men  is  to  be 
reached  by  their  union  with  one  another. 

However  people  of  our  upper  classes  (feeling  that  their 
ascendency  can  only  be  maintained  as  long  as  they  separate 
themselves — the  rich  and  learned — from  the  labourers,  the 
poor,  and  the  unlearned)  may  seek  to  devise  new  conceptions 
of  life  by  which  their  privileges  may  be  perpetuated, — now 
the  ideal  of  returning  to  antiquity,  now  mysticism,  now 
Hellenism,  now  the  cult  of  the  superior  person  (over 
man-ism), — they  have,  willingly  or  unwillingly,  to  admit  the 
truth  which  is  elucidating  itself  from  all  sides,  voluntarily 
and  involuntarily,  namely,  that  our  welfare  lies  only  in  the 
unification  and  the  brotherhood  of  man. 

Unconsciously  this  truth  is  confirmee!  by  the  construction  of 
means  of  communication, — telegraphs,  telephones,  the  press, 
and  the  ever-increasing  attainability  of  material  well-being  for 
everyone, — and,  consciously  it  is  affirmed  by  the  destruction 
of  ^superstitions  which  divide  men,  by  the  \diffusion  of  the 
truths  of  knowledge,. and  by  the  expression  of  the  ideal  of 
the  brotherhood  of  man  in  the  best  works  of  art  of  our  time. 

Art  is  a  spiritual  organ  of  human  life  which  cannot  be 
destroyed,  and  therefore,  notwithstanding  all  the  efforts 
made  by  people  of  the  upper  classes  to  conceal  the  religious 
ideal  by  which  humanity  lives,  that  ideal  is  more  and  more 

WHAT  IS  ART?  189 

clearly  recognised  by  man,  and  even  in  our  perverted  society 
is  more  and  more  often  partially  expressed  by  science  and 
by  art.  During  the  present  century  works  of  the  higher 
kind  of  religious  art  have  appeared  more  and  more  fre 
quently,  both  in  literature  and  in  painting,  permeated  by  a 
truly  Christian  spirit,  as  also  works  of  the  universal  art 
of  common  life,  accessible  to  all.  So  that  even  art  knows 
the  true  ideal  of  our  times,  and  tends  towards  it.  On 
the  one  hand,  the  best  works  of  art  of  our  times  transmit 
religious  feelings  urging  towards  the  union  and  the  brother 
hood  of  man  (such  are  the  works  of  Dickens,  Hugo, 
Dostoievsky;  and  in  painting,  of  Millet,  Bastien  Lepage, 
Jules  Breton,  L'Hermitte,  and  others) ;  on  the  other  hand, 
they  strive  towards  the  transmission,  not  of  feelings  which 
are  natural  to  people  of  the  upper  classes  only,  but  of  such 
feelings  as  may  unite  everyone  without  exception.  There 
are  as  yet  few  such  works,  but  the  need  of  them  is  already 
acknowledged.  In  recent  times  we  also  meet  more  and  more 
frequently  with  attempts  at  publications,  pictures,  concerts, 
and  theatres  for  the  people.  All  this  is  still  very  far  from 
accomplishing  what  should  be  done,  but  already  the  direction 
in  which  good  art  instinctively  presses  forward  to  regain 
the  path  natural  to  it  can  be  discerned. 

The  religious  perception  of  our  time — which  consists  in 
acknowledging  that  the  aim  of  life  (both  collective  and 
individual)  is  the  union  of  mankind — is  already  so  suffi 
ciently  distinct  that  people  have  now  only  to  reject  the  false 
theory  of  beauty,  according  to  which  enjoyment  is  considered 
to  be  the  purpose  of  art,  and  religious  perception  will 
naturally  takes  its  place  as  the  guide  of  the  art  of  our  time. 

And  as  soon  as  the  ''religious  perception,  which  already 
unconsciously  directs  the"  life  of  man,  is  consciously  acknow 
ledged,  then  immediately  and  :iaturally  the  division  of 
art,  into  art  for  the  lower  and  art  for  the  upper  classes, 
will  disappear.  There  Avill  be  one  common,  brotherly, 

i go  WHAT  IS  ART? 

universal  art ;  and  first,  that  art  will  naturally  be  rejected 
which  transmits  feelings  incompatible  with  the  religious 
perception  of  our  time, — feelings  which  do  not  unite,  but 
divide  men, — and  then  that  insignificant,  exclusive  art  will 
be  rejected  to  which  an  importance  is  now  attached  to  which 
it  has  no  right. 

And  as  soon  as  this  occurs,  art  will  immediately  cease  to 
be,  what  it  has  been  in  recent  times :  a  means  of  making 
people  coarser  and  more  vicious,  and  it  will  become,  what 
it  always  used  to  be  and  should  be,  a  means  by  which 
humanity  progresses  towards  unity  and  blessedness. 

Strange  as  the  comparison  may  sound,  what  has  happened 
to  the  art  of  our  circle  and  time  is  what  happens  to  a  woman 
who  sells  her  womanly  attractiveness,  intended  for  maternity, 
for  the  pleasure  of  those  who  desire  such  pleasures. 

The  art  of  our  time  and  of  our  circle  has  become  a  (pros 
titute;  And  this  comparison  holds  good  even  in  minute 
details.  Like  her  it  is  not  limited  to  certain  times,  like  her 
it  is  always  adorned,  like  her  it  is  always  saleable,  ;and  like 
her  it  is  enticing  and  ruinous. 

A  real  work  of  art  can  only  arise  in  the  soul  of  an  artist 
occasionally,  as  the  fruit  of  the  life  he  has  lived,  just  as  a 
child  is"  conceived  by  its  mother.  But  counterfeit  art  is 
produced  by  artisans  and  handicraftsmen  continually,  if  only 
consumers  can  be  found. 

Eeal  art,  like  the  wife  of  an  affectionate  husband,  needs 
no  ornaments.  But  counterfeit  art,  like  a  prostitute,  must 
always  be  decked  out. 

The  cause  of  the  production  of  real  art  is  the  artist's  inner 
need  to  express  a  feeling  that  has  accumulated,  just  as  for  a 
mother  the  cause  of  sexual  conception  is  Jove.  The  cause 
of  counterfeit  art,  as  of  prostitution,  is  gain. 

The  consequence  of  true  art  is  the  introduction  of  a  new 
feeling  into  the  intercourse  of  life,  as  the  consequence  of  a 
wife's  love  is  the  birth  of  a  new  man  into  life. 

WHAT  IS  ART ?  191 

The  consequences  of  counterfeit  art  are  the  perversion  of 
man,  pleasure  which  never  satisfies,  and  the  weakening  of 
man's  spiritual  strength. 

And  this  is  what  people  of  our  day  and  of  our  circle 
should  understand,  in  order  to  avoid  the  filthy  torrent  of 
depraved  and  prostituted  art  with  which  we  are  deluged. 


PEOPLE  talk  of  the  art  of  the  future,  meaning  by  "  art  of 
the  future  "  some  especially  refined,  new  art,  which,  as  they 
imagine,  will  be  developed  out  of  that  exclusive  art  of  one 
class  which  is  now  considered  the  highest  art.  But  no  such 
new  art  of  the  future  can  or  will  be  found.  Our  exclusive 
art,  that  of  the  upper  classes  of  Christendom,  has  found  its 
way  into  a  blind  alley.  The  direction  in  which  it  has  been 
going  leads  nowhere.  Having  once  let  go  of  that  which  is 
most  essential  for  art  (namely,  the  guidance  given  by 
^  \religious  perception),  that  art  has  become  ever  more  and 
more  exclusive,  and  therefore  ever  more  and  more  perverted, 
until,  finally,  it  has  come  tojnothing.  The  art  of  the  future, 
that  which  is  really  coming,  will  not  be  a  development  of 
present-day  art,  but  will  arise  on  completely  other  and  ne^J 
"\foundations^  having  nothing  in  common  with  those  by  which 
our  present  art  of  the  upper  classes  is  guided. 

Art  of  the  future,  that  is  to  say,  such  part  of  art  as 
will  be  chosen  from  among  all  the  art  diffused  among  man 
kind,  will  consist,  not  in  transmitting  feelings  accessible  only 
to  members  of  the  rich  classes,  as  is  the  case  to-day,  but  in 
transmitting  such  feelings  as  embody  the  highest  religious 
perception  of  our  times.  Only  those  productions  will  be 
considered  art  which  transmit  feelings  drawing  men  together 
in  brotherly  union,  or  such  universal  feelings  as  can  unite  all 
,jmen.  Only  such  art  will  be  chosen,  tolerated,  approved,  and 
diffused.  But  a*t  transmitting  feelings  flowing  from  anti 
quated,  worn-out  religious  teaching, — Church  art,  patriotic  art, 


WHAT  IS  ART?  193 

voluptuous  art,  transmitting  feelings  of  superstitious  fear,  of 
pride,  of  vanity,  of  ecstatic  admiration  of  national  heroes, — 
art  exciting  exclusive  love  of  one's  own  people,  or  sensuality, 
will  be  considered  bad,  harmful  art,  and  will  be  censured  and 
despised  by  public  opinion.  All  the  rest  of  art,  transmitting 
feelings  accessible  only  to  a  section  of  people,  will  be  con 
sidered  unimportant,  and  will  be  neither  blamed  nor  praised. 
And  the  appraisement  of  art  in  general  will  devolve,  not, 
as  is  now  the  case,  on  a  separate  class  of  rich  people,  but  on 
the  whole  people ;  so  that  for  a  work  to  be  esteemed  good, 
and  to  be  approved  of  and  diffused,  it  will  have  to  satisfy 
the  demands,  not  of  a  few  people  living  in.  identical  and 
often  unnatural  conditions,  but  it  will  have  to  satisfy  the 
demands  of  all  those  great  masses  of  people  who  are 
situated  in  the  natural  conditions  of  laborious  life. 

And  the  artists  producing  art  will  also  not  be,  as  now, 
merely  a  few  people  selected  from  a  small  section  of  the 
nation,  members  of  the  upper  classes  or  their  hangers-on, 
but  will  consist  of  all  those  gifted  members  of  the  whole 
people  who  prove  capable  of,  and  are  inclined  towards, 
artistic  activity. 

Artistic  activity  will  then  be  accessible  to  all  men.  It 
will  become  accessible  to  the  whole  people,  because,  in 
the  first  place,  in  the  art  of  the  future,  not  only  will  that 
complex  technique,  which  deforms  the  productions  of  the 
art  of  to-day  and  requires  so  great  an  effort  and  expenditure 
of  time,  not  be  demanded,  but,  on  the  contrary,  the  demand 
will  be  for  clearness,  simplicity,  and  brevity — conditions 
mastered  not  by  mechanical  exercises  but  by  the  education  of 
taste.  And  secondly,  artistic  activity  will  become  accessible 
to  all  men  of  the  people  because,  instead  of  the  present 
professional  schools  which  only  some  can  enter,  all  \vili 
learn  music  and  depictive  art  (singing  and  drawing)  equally 
with  letters  in  the  elementary  schools,  and  in  such  a  way 
that  every  man,  having  received  the  first  principles  of  draw- 

194  WHAT  IS  ART? 

ing  and  music,  and  feeling  a  capacity  for,  and  a  call  to,  one 
or  other  of  the  arts,  will  be  able  to  perfect  himself  in  it. 

People  think  that  if  there  are  no  special  art-schools  the 
technique  of  art  will  deteriorate.  Undoubtedly,  if  by 
technique  we  understand  those  complications  of  art  which 
are  now  considered  an  excellence,  it  will  deteriorate  ;  but  if 
by  technique  is  understood  clearness,  beauty,  simplicity, 
and  compression  in  works  of  art,  then,  even  if  the  elements 
of  drawing  and  music  were  not  to  be  taught  in  the  national 
schools,  the  technique  will  not  only  not  deteriorate,  but, 
as  is  shown  by  all  peasant  art,  will  be  a  hundred  times 
better.  It  will  be  improved,  because  all  the  artists  of 
genius  now  hidden  among  the  masses  will  become  pro 
ducers  of  art  and  will  give  models  of  excellence,  whicli 
(as  has  always  been  the  case)  will  be  the  best  schools  of 
technique  for  their  successors.  For  every  true  artist,  even 
now,  learns  his  technique,  chiefly,  not  in  the  schools  but  in 
life,  from  the  examples  of  the  great  masters ;  then — when 
the  producers  of  art  will  be  the  best  artists  of  the  whole 
nation,  and  there  will  be  more  such  examples,  and  they 
will  be  more  accessible — such  part  of  the  school  training  as 
the  future  artist  will  lose  will  be  a  hundredfold  compen 
sated  for  by  the  training  he  will  receive  from  the  numerous 
examples  of  good  art  diffused  in  society. 

Such  will  be  one  difference  between  present  and  future 
art.  Another  difference  will  be  that  art  will  not  be  pro 
duced  by  professional  artists  receiving  payment  for  their 
work  and  engaged  on  nothing  else  besides  their  art.  The 
art  of  the  future  will  be  produced  by  all  the  members  of 
the  community  who  feel  the  need  of  such  activity,  but  they 
will  occupy  themselves  with  art  only  when  they  feel  such 

In  our  society  people  think  that  an  artist  will  .work 
better,  and  produce  more,  if  he  has  a  secured  maintenance. 
And  this  opinion  would  serve  once  more  to  show  clearly, 

WHAT  IS  ART?  195 

were  such  demonstration  still  needed,  that  what  among 
us  is  considered  art  is  not  art,  but  only  its  counterfeit.  It 
is  quite  true  that  for  the  production  of  boots  or  loaves 
division  of  labour  is  very  advantageous,  and  that  the 
bootmaker  or  baker  who  need  not  prepare  his  own  dinner 
or  fetch  his  own  fuel  will  make  more  boots  or  loaves 
than  if  he  had  to  busy  himself  about  these  matters.  But 
art  is  not  a  handicraft ;  it  is  the  transmission  of  feeling 
the  artist  has  experienced.  And  sound  feeling  can  only  be 
engendered  in  a  man  when  he  is  living  on  all  its  sides  the 
life  natural  and  proper  to  mankind.  And  therefore  security 
of  maintenance  is  a  condition  most  harmful  to  an  artist's 
true  productiveness,  since  it  removes  him  from  the  condition 
natural  to  all  men, — that  of  struggle  with  nature  for  the 
maintenance  of  both  his  own  life  and  that  of  others, — 
and  thus  deprives  him  of  opportunity  and  possibility  to 
experience  the  most  important  and  natural  feelings  of  man. 
There  is  no  position  more  injurious  to  an  artist's  productive 
ness  than  that  position  of  complete  security  and  luxury  in 
which  artists  usually  live  in  our  society. 

The  artist  of  the  future  will  live  the  common  life  of  man, 
earning  his  subsistence  by  some  kind  of  labour.  The  fruits 
of  that  highest  spiritual  strength  which  passes  through  him 
he  will  try  to  share  with  the  greatest  possible  number  of 
people,  for  in  such  transmission  to  others  of  the  feelings 
that  have  arisen  in  him  he  will  find  his  happiness  and 
his  reward.  The  artist  of  the  future  will  be  unable  to 
understand  how  an  artist,  whose  chief  delight  is  in  the 
wide  diffusion  of  his  works,  could  give  them  only  in 
exchange  for  a  certain  payment. 

Until  the  dealers  are  driven  out,  the  temple  of  art  will 
not  be  a  temple.  But  the  art  of  the  future  will  drive  them 

And  therefore  the  subject-matter  of  the  art  of  the  future,  as 
I  imagine  it  to  myself,  will  be  totally  unlike  that  of  to-day. 

196  WHAT  IS  ART? 

It  will  consist,  not  in  the  expression  of  exclusive  feel 
ings  :  pride,  spleen,  satiety,  and  all  possible  forms  of  volup 
tuousness,  available  and  interesting  only  to  people  who, 
by  force,  have  freed  themselves  from  the  labour  natural  to 
human  beings ;  but  it  will  consist  in  the  expression  of  feel 
ings  experienced  by  a  man  living  the  life  natural  to  all 
men  and  flowing  from  the  religious  perception  of  our  times, 
or  of  such  feelings  as  are  open  to  all  men  without  exception. 

To  people  of  our  circle  who  do  not  know,  and  cannot  or 
will  not  understand  the  feelings  which  will  form  the  subject- 
matter  of  the  art  of  the  future,  such  subject-matter  appears 
very  poor  in  comparison  with  those  subtleties  of  exclusive 
art  with  which  they  are  now  occupied.  "  What  is  there 
fresh  to  be  said  in  the  sphere  of  the  Christian  feeling  of 
love  of  one's  fellow-man1?  The  feelings  common  to 
everyone  are  so  insignificant  and  monotonous,"  think  they. 
And  yet,  in  our  time,  the  really  fresh  feelings  can  only  be 
religious,  Christian  feelings,  and  such  as  are  open,  accessible,  to 
all.  The  feelings  flowing  from  the  religious  perception  of  our 
times,  Christian  feelings,  are  infinitely  new  and  varied,  only 
not  in  the  sense  some  people  imagine, — not  that  they  can 
be  evoked  by  the  depiction  of  Christ  and  of  Gospel  episodes, 
or  by  repeating  in  new  forms  the  Christian  truths  of  unity, 
brotherhood,  equality,  and  love, — but  in  that  all  the  oldest, 
commonest,  and  most  hackneyed  phenomena  of  life  evoke 
the  newest,  most  unexpected  and  touching  emotions  as  soon 
as  a  man  regards  them  from  the  Christian  point  of  view. 

What  can  be  older  than  the  relations  between  married 
couples,  of  parents  to  children,  of  children  to  parents ;  the 
relations  of  men  to  their  fellow-countrymen  and  to  for 
eigners,  to  an  invasion,  to  defence,  to  property,  to  the  land, 
or  to  animals  1  But  as  soon  as  a  man  regards  these  matters 
from  the  Christian  point  of  view,  endlessly  varied,'  fresh, 
complex,  and  strong  emotions  immediately  arise. 

And,  in  the  same  way,  that  realm  of  subject-matter  for 

WHA7  IS  ART?  197 

the  art  of  the  future  which  relates  to  the  simplest 
feelings  of  common  life  open  to  all  will  not  be  narrowed 
but  widened.  In  our  former  art  only  the  expression  of 
feelings  natural  to  people  of  a  certain  exceptional  position 
was  considered  worthy  of  being  transmitted  by  art,  and 
even  then  only  on  condition  that  these  feelings  were  trans 
mitted  in  a  most  refined  manner,  incomprehensible  to  the 
majority  of  men;  all  the  immense  realm  of  folk-art,  and 
children's  art  —  jests,  proverbs,  riddles,  songs,  dances, 
children's  games,  and  mimicry — was  not  esteemed  a  domain 
worthy  of  art. 

The  artist  of  the  future  wrill  understand  that  to  compose 
a  fairy-tale,  a  little  song  which  will  touch,  a  lullaby  or  a 
riddle  which  will  entertain,  a  jest  which  will  amuse,  or  to 
draw  a  sketch  \vhich  will  delight  dozens  of  generations 
or  millions  of  children  and  adults,  is  incomparably  more 
important  and  more  fruitful  than  to  compose  a  novel  or 
a  symphony,  or  paint  a  picture  which  will  divert  some 
members  of  the  wealthy  classes  for  a  short  time,  and  then 
be  for  ever  forgotten.  The  region  of  this  art  of  the  simple 
feelings  accessible  to  all  is  enormous,  and  it  is  as  yet  almost 

The  art  of  the  future,  therefore,  will  not  be  poorer,  but 
infinitely  richer  in  subject-matter.  And  the  form  of  the  art  of 
the  future  will  also  not  be  inferior  to  the  present  forms  of  art, 
but  infinitely  superior  to  them.  Superior,  not  in  the  sense 
of  having  a  refined  and  complex  technique,  but  in  the 
sense  of  the  capacity  briefly,  simply,  and  clearly  to  transmit, 
without  any  superfluities,  the  feeling  which  the  artist  has 
experienced  and  wishes  to  transmit. 

I  remember  once  speaking  to  a  famous  astronomer  who 
had  given  public  lectures  on  the  spectrum  analysis  of  the 
stars  of  the  Milky  Way,  and  saying  it  would  be  a  good  thing 
if,  with  his  knowledge  and  masterly  delivery,  he  would  give 
a  lecture  merely  on  the  formation  and  movements  of  the 

198  WffA  T  IS  ART  ? 

earth,  for  certainly  there  were  many  people  at  his  lecture 
on  the  spectrum  analysis  of  the  stars  of  the  Milky  Way, 
especially  among  the  women,  who  did  not  well  know  why 
night  follows  day  and  summer  follows  winter.  The  wise 
astronomer  smiled  as  he  answered,  "  Yes,  it  would  be  a 
good  thing,  but  it  would  be  very  difficult.  To  lecture  on 
the  spectrum  analysis  of  the  Milky  Way  is  far  easier." 

And  so  it  is  in  art.  To  write  a  rhymed  poem  dealing 
with  the  times  of  Cleopatra,  or  paint  a  picture  of  Xero 
burning  Rome,  or  compose  a  symphony  in  the  manner  of 
Brahms  or  Richard  Strauss,  or  an  opera  like  Wagner's,  is 
far  easier  than  to  >tell  a  simple  story  without  any  unneces 
sary  details,  yet  so  that  it  should  transmit  the  feelings  of 
the  narrator,  or  to  draw  a  pencil-sketch  which  should 
touch  or  amuse  the  beholder,  or  to  compose  four  bars 
of  clear  and  simple  melody,  without  any  accompaniment, 
which  should  convey  an  impression  and  be  remembered  by 
those  who  hear  it. 

"  It  is  impossible  for  us,  with  our  culture,  to  return  to  a 
primitive  state,"  say  the  artists  of  our  time.  "  It  is  impos 
sible  for  us  now  to  write  such  stories  as  that  of  Joseph  or 
the  Odyssey,  to  produce  such  statues  as  the  Venus  of  Milo, 
or  to  compose  such  music  as  the  folk-songs." 

And  indeed,  for  the  artists  of  our  society  and  day,  it  is 
impossible,  but  not  for  the  future  artist,  who  will  be  free 
from,  all  the  perversion  of  technical  improvements  hiding 
the  absence  of  subject-matter,  and  who,  not  being  a  profes 
sional  artist  and  receiving  no  payment  for  his  activity,  will 
only  produce  art  when  he  feels  impelled  to  do  so  by  an 
irresistible  inner  impulse. 

The  art  of  the  future  will  thus  be  completely  distinct, 
both  in  subject-matter  and  in  form,  from  what  is  now  called 
art.  The  only  subject-matter  of  the  art  of  the  future  will 
be  either  feelings  drawing  men  towards  union,  or  such  as 
already  unite  them ;  and  the  forms  of  art  will  be  such  as 

WHAT  IS  ART?  199 

will  be  open  to  everyone.  And  therefore,  the  ideal  of 
excellence  in  the  fmure  will  not  be  the  exclusiveness  of  feel 
ing,  accessible  only  to  some,  but,  on  the  contrary,  its  uni 
versality.  And  not  bulkiness,  obscurity,  and  complexity  of 
form,  as  is  now  esteemed,  but,  on  the  contrary,  brevity, 
clearness,  and  simplicity  of  expression.  Only  when  art  has 
attained  to  that,  will  art  neither  divert  nor  deprave  men  as 
it  does  now,  calling  on  them  to  expend  their  best  strength 
on  it,  but  be  what  it  should  be  —  a  vehicle  wherewith 
to  transmit  religious,  Christian  perception  from  the  realm  of 
reason  and  intellect  into  that  of  feeling,  and  really  drawing 
people  in  actual  life  nearer  to  that  perfection  and  unity 
indicated  to  them  by  their  religious  perception. 



I  HAVE  accomplished,  to  the  best  of  my  ability,  this  work 
which  has  occupied  me  for  15  years,  on  a  subject  near  to  me 
— that  of  art.  By  saying  that  this  subject  has  occupied  me 
for  15  years,  I  do  not  mean  that  I  have  been  writing  this 
book  15  years,  but  only  that  I  began  to  write  on  art  15 
years  ago,  thinking  that  when  once  I  undertook  the  task  I 
should  be  able  to  accomplish  it  without  a  break.  It  proved, 
however,  that  my  views  on  the  matter  then  were  so  far  from 
clear  that  I  could  not  arrange  them  in  a  way  that  satis 
fied  me.  From  that  time  I  have  never  ceased  to  think 
on  the  subject,  and  I  have  recommenced  to  write  on  it  6 
or  7  times ;  but  each  time,  after  writing  a  considerable  part 
of  it,  I  have  found  myself  unable  to  bring  the  work  to  a 
satisfactory  conclusion,  and  have  had  to  put  it  aside.  Now 
I  have  finished  it;  and  however  badly  I  may  have  per 
formed  the  task,  my  hope  is  that  my  fundamental  thought  as 
to  the  false  direction  the  art  of  our  society  has  taken  and  is 
following,  as  to  the  reasons  of  this,  and  as  to  the  real 
destination  of  art,  is  correct,  and  that  therefore  my  work 
will  not  be  without  avail.  But  that  this  should  come  to 
pass,  and  that  art  should  really  abandon  its  false  path  and 
take  the  new  direction,  it  is  necessary  that  another  equally 
important  human  spiritual  activity, — science, — in  intimate 
dependence  on  which  art  always  rests,  should  abandon  the 
false  path  which  it  too,  like  art,  is  following. 


WHAT  IS  ART?  201 

Science  and  art  are  as  closely  bound  together  as  the  lungs 
and  the  heart,  so  that  if  one  organ  is  vitiated  the  other 
cannot  act  rightly. 

True  science  investigates  and  brings  to  human  perception 
such  truths  and  such  knowledge  as  the  people  of  a  given 
time  and  society  consider  most  important.  Art  transmits 
these  truths  from  the  region  of  perception  to  the  region  of 
emotion.  Therefore,  if  the  path  chosen  by  science  be  false 
so  also  will  be  the  path  taken  by  art.  Science  and  art  are  like 
a  certain  kind  of  barge  with  kedge-anchors  which  used  to  ply 
on  our  rivers.  Science,  like  the  boats  which  took  the  anchors 
up-stream  and  made  them  secure,  gives  direction  to  the 
forward  movement ;  while  art,  like  the  windlass  worked  on 
the  barge  to  draw  it  towards  the  anchor,  causes  the  actual 
progression.  And  thus  a  false  activity  of  science  inevitably 
causes  a  correspondingly  false  activity  of  art. 

As  art  in  general  is  the  transmission  of  every  kind  of 
feeling,  but  in  the  limited  sense  of  the  word  we  only  call 
that  art  which  transmits  feelings  acknowledged  by  us  to  be 
important,  so  also  science  in  general  is  the  transmission  of 
all  possible  knowledge ;  but  in  the  limited  sense  of  the  word 
we  call  science  that  which  transmits  knowledge  acknow 
ledged  by  us  to  be  important. 

And  the  degree  of  importance,  both  of  the  feelings  trans 
mitted  by  art  and  of  the  information  transmitted  by  science, 
is  decided  by  the  religious  perception  of  the  given  time  and 
society,  i.e.  by  the  common  understanding  of  the  purpose 
of  their  lives  possessed  by  the  people  of  that  time  or 

That  which  most  of  all  contributes  to  the  fulfilment  of  that 
purpose  will  be  studied  most ;  that  which  contributes  less 
will  be  studied  less  ;  that  which  does  not  contribute  at  all 
to  the  fulfilment  of  the  purpose  of  human  life  will  be  entirely 
neglected,  or,  if  studied,  such  study  will  not  be  accounted 
science.  So  it  always  has  been,  and  so  it  should  be  now ; 

202  WHAT  IS  ART? 

for  such  is  the  nature  of  human  knowledge  and  of  human 
life.  But  the  science  of  the  upper  classes  of  our  time,  which 
not  only  does  not  acknowledge  any  religion,  but  considers 
every  religion  to  be  mere  superstition,  could  not  and  cannot 
make  such  distinctions. 

Scientists  of  our  day  affirm  that  they  study  everything 
impartially;  but  as  everything  is  too  much  (is  in  fact  an 
infinite  number  of  objects),  and  as  it  is  impossible  to  study 
all  alike,  this  is  only  said  in  the  theory,  while  in  practice 
not  everything  is  studied,  and  study  is  applied  far  from 
impartially,  only  that  being  studied  which,  on  the  one  hand, 
is  most  wanted  by,  and  on  the  other  hand,  is  pleasantest 
to  those  people  who  occupy  themselves  with  science.  And 
what  the  people,  belonging  to  the  upper  classes,  who  are 
occupying  themselves  with  science  most  want  is  the  main 
tenance  of  the  system  under  which  those  classes  retain  their 
privileges ;  and  what  is  pleasantest  are  such  things  as  satisfy 
idle  curiosity,  do  not  demand  great  mental  efforts,  and  can 
be  practically  applied. 

And  therefore  one  side  of  science,  including  theology  and 
philosophy  adapted  to  the  existing  order,  as  also  history  and 
political  economy  of  the  same  sort,  are  chiefly  occupied  in 
proving  that  the  existing  order  is  the  very  one  which  ought 
to  exist ;  that  it  has  come  into  existence  and  continues  to 
exist  by  the  operation  of  immutable  laws  not  amenable  to 
human  will,  and  that  all  efforts  to  change  it  are  therefore 
harmful  and  wrong.  The  other  part,  experimental  science, 
— including  mathematics,  astronomy,  chemistry,  physics, 
botany,  and  all  the  natural  sciences, — is  exclusively  occupied 
with  things  that  have  no  direct  relation  to  human  life : 
with  what  is  curious,  and  with  things  of  which  practical 
application  advantageous  to  people  of  the  upper  classes  can 
be  made.  And  to  justify  that  selection  of  objects  of  study 
which  (in  conformity  to  their  own  position)  the  men  of 
science  of  our  times  have  made,  they  have  devised  a  theory 

WHAT  IS  ART?  205 

of  science  for  science's  sake,  quite  similar  to  the  theory  of 
art  for  art's  sake. 

As  by  the  theory  of  art  for  art's  sake  it  appears  that 
occupation  with  all  those  things  that  please  us — is  art,  so, 
by  the  theory  of  science  for  science's  sake,  the  study  of 
that  which  interests  us — is  science. 

So  that  one  side  of  science,  instead  of  studying  how  people 
should  live  in  order  to  fulfil  their  mission  in  life,  demon 
strates  the  righteousness  and  immutability  of  the  bad  and 
false  arrangements  of  life  which  exist  around  us ;  while  the 
other  part,  experimental  science,  occupies  itself  with  ques 
tions  of  simple  curiosity  or  with  technical  improvements. 

The  first  of  these  divisions  of  science  is  harmful,  nob 
only  because  it  confuses  people's  perceptions  and  gives  false' 
decisions,  but  also  because  it  exists,  and  occupies  the  ground 
which  should  belong  to  true  science.  It  does  this  harm, 
that  each  man,  in  order  to  approach  the  study  of  the  most 
important  questions  of  life,  must  first  refute  these  erections 
of  lies  which  have  during  ages  been  piled  around  each  of" 
the  most  essential  questions  of  human  life,  and  which  are 
propped  up  by  all  the  strength  of  human  ingenuity. 

The  second  division — the  one  of  which  modem  science 
is  so  particularly  proud,  and  which  is  considered  by  many 
people  to  be  the  only  real  science — is  harmful  in  that  it 
diverts  attention  from  the  really  important  subjects  to  in 
significant  subjects,  and  is  also  directly  harmful  in  that, 
under  the  evil  system  of  society  which  the  first  division  of 
science  justifies  and  supports,  a  great  part  of  the  technical 
gains  of  science  are  turned  not  to  the  advantage  but  to  the 
injury  of  mankind. 

Indeed  it  is  only  to  those  who  are  devoting  their  lives  to> 
such  study  that  it  seems  as  if  all  the  inventions  which  are 
made  in  the  sphere  of  natural  science  were  very  important 
and  useful  things.  And  to  these  people  it  seems  so  only 
when  they  do  not  look  around  them  and  do  not  see  what  is 

204  WHAT  IS  ART? 

really  important.  They  only  need  tear  themselves  away 
from  the  psychological  microscope  under  which  they  ex 
amine  the  objects  of  their  study,  and  look  about  them,  in 
order  to  see  how  insignificant  is  all  that  has  afforded  them 
such  naive  pride,  all  that  knowledge  not  only  of  geometry 
of  n-dimensions,  spectrum  analysis  of  the  Milky  Way,  the 
form  of  atoms,  dimensions  of  human  skulls  of  the  Stone  Age, 
and  similar  trifles,  but  even  our  knowledge  of  micro 
organisms,  X-rays,  etc.,  in  comparison  with  such  knowledge 
as  we  have  thrown  aside  and  handed  over  to  the  perver 
sions  of  the  professors  of  theology,  jurisprudence,  political 
economy,  financial  science,  etc.  We  need  only  look  around 
us  to  perceive  that  the  activity  proper  to  real  science  is 
not  the  study  of  whatever  happens  to  interest  us,  but  the 
study  of  how  man's  life  should  be  established, — the  study 
of  those  questions  of  religion,  morality,  and  social  life, 
without  the  solution  of  which  all  our  knowledge  of  nature 
will  be  harmful  or  insignificant. 

We  are  highly  delighted  and  very  proud  that  our  science 
renders  it  possible  to  utilise  the  energy  of  a  waterfall  and 
make  it  work  in  factories,  or  that  we  have  pierced  tunnels 
through  mountains,  and  so  forth.  But  the  pity  of  it  is 
that  we  make  the  force  of  the  waterfall  labour,  not  for 
the  benefit  of  the  workmen,  but  to  enrich  capitalists  who 
produce  articles  of  luxury  or  weapons  of  man-destroying 
war.  The  same  dynamite  with  which  we  blast  the  moun 
tains  to  pierce  tunnels,  we  use  for  wars,  from  which  latter 
we  not  only  do  not  intend  to  abstain,  but  which  we  consider 
inevitable,  and  for  which  we  unceasingly  prepare. 

If  we  are  now  able  to  inoculate  preventatively  with 
diphtheritic  microbes,  to  find  a  needle  in  a  body  by  means 
of  X-rays,  to  straighten  a  hunched-back,  cure  syphilis,  and 
perform  wonderful  operations,  we  should  not  be  proud  'of 
these  acquisitions  either  (even  were  they  all  established 
beyond  dispute)  if  we  fully  understood  the  true  purpose 

WHAT  IS  ART?  205 

of  real  science.  If  but  one-tenth  of  the  efforts  now  spent  on 
objects  of  pure  curiosity  or  of  merely  practical  application 
were  expended  on  real  science  organising  the  life  of  man, 
more  than  half  the  people  now  sick  would  not  have  the 
illnesses  from  which  a  small  minority  of  them  now  get 
cured  in  hospitals.  There  would  be  no  poor-blooded  and 
deformed  children  growing  up  in  factories,  no  death-rates, 
as  now,  of  50  per  cent,  among  children,  no  deterioration 
of  whole  generations,  no  prostitution,  no  syphilis,  and  no 
murdering  of  hundreds  of  thousands  in  wars,  nor  those 
horrors  of  folly  and  of  misery  which  our  present  science 
considers  a  necessary  condition  of  human  life. 

We  have  so  perverted  the  conception  of  science  that  it 
seems  strange  to  men  of  our  day  to  allude  to  sciences  which 
should  prevent  the  mortality  of  children,  prostitution, 
syphilis,  the  deterioration  of  whole  generations,  and  the 
wholesale  murder  of  men.  It  seems  to  us  that  science  is 
only  then  real  science  when  a  man  in  a  laboratory  pours 
liquids  from  one  jar  into  another,  or  analyses  the  spectrum, 
or  cuts  up  frogs  and  porpoises,  or  weaves  in  a  specialised, 
scientific  jargon  an  obscure  network  of  conventional 
phrases — theological,  philosophical,  historical,  juridical,  or 
politico-economical — semi-intelligible  to  the  man  himself,  and 
intended  to  demonstrate  that  what  now  is,  is  what  should  be. 

But  science,  true  science, — such  science  as  would  really 
deserve  the  respect  which  is  now  claimed  by  the  followers 
of  one  (the  least  important)  part  of  science, — is  not  at  all  such 
as  this :  real  science  lies  in  knowing  what  we  should  and 
what  we  should  not  believe,  in  knowing  how  the  associated 
life  of  man  should  and  should  not  be  constituted ;  how  to 
treat  sexual  relations,  how  to  educate  children,  how  to  use 
the  land,  how  to  'cultivate  it  oneself  without  oppressing 
other  people,  how  to  treat  foreigners,  how  to  treat  animals, 
and  much  more  that  is  important  for  the  life  of  man. 

Such  has  true  science  ever  been  and  such  it  should  be. 

206  WHAT  IS  ART? 

And  such  science  is  springing  up  in  our  times;  but,  on 
the  one  hand,  such  true  science  is  denied  and  refuted  by 
all  those  scientific  people  who  defend  the  existing  order 
of  society,  and,  on  the  other  hand,  it  is  considered  empty, 
unnecessary,  unscientific  science  by  those  who  are  engrossed 
in  experimental  science. 

For  instance,  books  and  sermons  appear,  demonstrating 
the  antiquatedness  and  absurdity  of  Church  dogmas,  as  well 
as  the  necessity  of  establishing  a  reasonable  religious  percep 
tion  suitable  to  our  times,  and  all  the  theology  that  is  con 
sidered  to  be  real  science  is  only  engaged  in  refuting  these 
works  and  in  exercising  human  intelligence  again  and  again 
to  find  support  and  justification  for  superstitions  long  since 
out-lived,  and  which  have  now  become  quite  meaningless.  Or 
a  sermon  appears  showing  that  land  should  not  be  an  object 
of  private  possession,  and  that  the  institution  of  private? 
property  in  land  is  a  chief  cause  of  the  poverty  of  the 
masses.  Apparently  science,  real  science,  should  welcome 
such  a  sermon  and  draw  further  deductions  from  this  posi 
tion.  But  the  science  of  our  times  does  nothing  of  the 
kind  :  on  the  contrary,  political  economy  demonstrates  the 
opposite  position,  namely,  that  landed  property,  like  every 
other  form  of  property,  must  be  more  and  more  concentrated 
in  the  hands  of  a  small  number  of  owners.  Again,  in  the 
same  way,  one  would  suppose  it  to  be  the  business  of  real 
science  to  demonstrate  the  irrationality,  unprofitableness,  and 
immorality  of  war  and  of  executions;  or  the  inhumanity 
and  harmf ulness  of  prostitution ;  or  the  absurdity,  harmful- 
ness,  and  immorality  of  using  narcotics  or  of  eating  animals ; 
or  the  irrationality,  harmfulness,  and  antiquatedness  of 
patriotism.  And  such  works  exist,  but  are  all  considered 
unscientific;  while  works  to  prove  that  all  these  things 
ought  to  continue,  and  works  intended  to  satisfy  an  idle 
thirst  for  knowledge  lacking  any  relation  to  human  life,  are 
considered  to  be  scientific. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  207 

The  deviation  of  the  science  of  our  time  from  its  true 
purpose  is  strikingly  illustrated  by  those  ideals  which  are 
put  forward  by  some  scientists,  and  are  not  denied,  but 
admitted,  by  the  majority  of  scientific  men. 

These  ideals  are  expressed  not  only  in  stupid,  fashionable 
books,  describing  the  world  as  it  will  be  in  1000  or  3000 
years'  time,  but  also  by  sociologists  who  consider  themselves 
serious  men  of  science!  These  ideals  are  that  food  instead 
of  being  obtained  from  the  land  by  agriculture,  will  be  pre 
pared  in  laboratories  by  chemical  means,  and  that  human 
labour  will  be  almost  entirely  superseded  by  the  utilisation 
of  natural  forces. 

Man  will  not,  as  now,  eat  an  egg  laid  by  a  hen  he  has 
kept,  or  bread  grown  on  his  field,  or  an  apple  from  a  tree  he 
has  reared  and  which  has  blossomed  and  matured  in  his 
sight ;  but  he  will  eat  tasty,  nutritious,  food  which  will  be 
prepared  in  laboratories  by  the  conjoint  labour  of  many 
people  in  which  he  will  take  a  small  part.  Man  will  hardly 
need  to  labour,  so  that  all  men  will  be  able  to  yield  to 
idleness  as  the  upper,  ruling  classes  now  yield  to  it. 

Nothing  shows  more  plainly  than  these  ideals  to  what  a 
degree  the  science  of  our  times  has  deviated  from  the  true 

The  great  majority  of  men  in  our  times  lack  good  and 
sufficient  food  (as  well  as  dwellings  and  clothes  and  all  the 
first  necessaries  of  life).  And  this  great  majority  of  men  is 
compelled,  to  the  injury  of  its  well-being,  to  labour  con 
tinually  beyond  its  strength.  Both  these  evils  can  easily  be 
removed  by  abolishing  mutual  strife,  luxury,  and  the  un 
righteous  distribution  of  wealth,  in  a  word  by  the  abolition 
of  a  false  and  harmful  order  and  the  establishment  of  a 
reasonable,  human  manner  of  life.  But  science  considers  the 
existing  order  of  things  to  be  as  immutable  as  the  move 
ments  of  the  planets,  and  therefore  assumes  that  the  purpose 
of  science  is — not  to  elucidate  the  falseness  of  this  order  and 

2oS  WHAT  IS  ART? 

to  arrange  a  new,  reasonable  way  of  life — but,  under  the 
existing  order  of  things,  to  feed  everybody  and  enable  all  to  be 
as  idle  as  the  ruling  classes,  who  live  a  depraved  life,  now  are. 

And,  meanwhile,  it  is  forgotten  that  nourishment  with 
corn,  vegetables,  and  fruit  raised  from  the  soil  by  one's  own 
labour  is  the  pleasantest,  healthiest,  easiest,  and  most  natural 
nourishment,  and  that  the  work  of  using  one's  muscles  is  as 
necessary  a  condition  of  life  as  is  the  oxidation  of  the  blood 
by  breathing. 

To  invent  means  whereby  people  might,  while  continuing 
our  false  division  of  property  and  labour,  be  well  nourished 
by  means  of  chemically-prepared  food,  and  might  make  the 
forces  of  nature  work  for  them,  is  like  inventing  means  to 
pump  oxygen  into  the  lungs  of  a  man  kept  in  a  closed 
chamber  the  air  of  which  is  bad,  when  all  that  is  needed  is 
to  cease  to  confine  the  man  in  the  closed  chamber. 

In  the  vegetable  and  animal  kingdoms  a  laboratory  for 
the  production  of  food  has  been  arranged,  such  as  can  be 
surpassed  by  no  professors,  and  to  enjoy  the  fruits  of  this 
laboratory,  and  to  participate  in  it,  man  has  only  to  yield  to 
that  ever  joyful  impulse  to  labour,  without  which  man's 
life  is  a  torment.  And  lo  and  behold,  the  scientists  of  our 
times,  instead  of  employing  all  their  strength  to  abolish  what 
ever  hinders  man  from  utilising  the  good  things  prepared  for 
him,  acknowledge  the  conditions  under  which  man  is  deprived 
of  these  blessings  to  be  unalterable,  and  instead  of  arranging 
the  life  of  man  so  that  he  might  work  joyfully  and  be  fed 
from  the  soil,  they  devise  methods  which  will  cause  him  to 
become  an  artificial  abortion.  It  is  like  not  helping  a  man 
out  of  confinement  into  the  fresh  air,  but  devising  means, 
instead,  to  pump  into  him  the  necessary  quantity  of  oxygen 
and  arranging  so  that  he  may  live  in  a  stifling  cellar  instead 
of  living  at  home. 

Such  false  ideals  could  not  exist  if  science  were  not  on  a 
false  path. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  209 

And  yet  the  feelings  transmitted  by  art  grow  up  on  the 
bases  supplied  by  science. 

But  what  feelings  can  such  misdirected  science  evoke? 
One  side  of  this  science  evokes  antiquated  feelings,  which 
humanity  has  used  up,  and  which,  in  our  times,  are  bad  and 
exclusive.  The  other  side,  occupied  with  the  study  of  sub 
jects  unrelated  to  the  conduct  of  human  life,  by  its  very 
nature  cannot  serve  as  a  basis  for  art. 

So  that  art  in  our  times,  to  be  art,  must  either  open  up  its 
own  road  independently  of  science,  or  must  take  direction 
from  the  unrecognised  science  which  is  denounced  by  the 
orthodox  section  of  science.  And  this  is  what  art,  when 
it  even  partially  fulfils  its  mission,  is  doing. 

It  is  to  be  hoped  that  the  work  I  have  tried  to  perform 
concerning  art  will  be  performed  also  for  science — that  the 
falseness  of  the  theory  of  science  for  science's  sake  will  be 
demonstrated;  that  the  necessity  of  acknowledging  Chris 
tian  teaching  in  its  true  meaning  will  be  clearly  shown, 
that  on  the  basis  of  that  teaching  a  reappraisement  will 
be  made  of  the  knowledge  we  possess,  arid  of  which  we 
are  so  proud ;  that  the  secondariness  and  insignificance  of 
experimental  science,  and  the  primacy  and  importance  of 
religious,  moral,  and  social  knowledge  will  be  established ; 
and  that  such  knowledge  will  not,  as  now,  be  left  to  the  guid 
ance  of  the  upper  classes  only,  but  will  form  a  chief  interest 
of  all  free,  truth-loving  men,  such  as  those  who,  not  in  agree 
ment  with  the  upper  classes  but  in  their  despite,  have 
always  forwarded  the  real  science  of  life. 

Astronomical,  physical,  chemical,  and  biological  science, 
as  also  technical  and  medical  science,  will  be  studied  only  in 
so  far  as  they  can  help  to  free  mankind  from  religious, 
juridical,  or  social  deceptions,  or  can  serve  to  promote  the 
well-being  of  all  men,  and  not  of  any  single  class. 

Only  then  will  science  cease  to  be  what  it  is  now—  on  the 
one  hand  a  system  of  sophistries,  needed  for  the  maintenance 

210  WHAT  IS  ART? 

of  the  existing  worn-out  order  of  society,  and,  on  the  other 
hand,  a  shapeless  mass  of  miscellaneous  knowledge,  for  the 
most  part  good  for  little  or  nothing — and  become  a  shapely 
and  organic  whole,  having  a  definite  and  reasonable  pur 
pose  comprehensible  to  all  men,  namely,  the  purpose  of 
bringing  to  the  consciousness  of  men  the  truths  that  flow 
from  the  religious  perception  of  our  times. 

And  only  then  will  art,  which  is  always  dependent  on 
science,  be  what  it  might  and  should  be,  an  organ  coequally 
important  with  science  for  the  life  and  progress  of  mankind. 

Art  is  not  a  pleasure,  a  solace,  or  an  amusement ;  art  is  a 
great  matter.  Art  is  an  organ  of  human  life,  transmitting 
man's  reasonable  perception  into  feeling.  In  our  age  the 
common  religious  perception  of  men  is  the  consciousness  of 
the  brotherhood  of  man — we  know  that  the  well-being  of 
man  lies  in  union  with  his  fellow -men.  True  science 
should  indicate  the  various  methods  of  applying  this  con 
sciousness  to  life.  Art  should  transform  this  perception 
into  feeling. 

The  task  of  art  is  enormous.  Through  the  influence  of 
real  art,  aided  by  science  guided  by  religion,  that  peace 
ful  co-operation  of  man  which  is  now  obtained  by  external 
means — by  our  law-courts,  police,  charitable  institutions, 
factory  inspection,  etc. — should  be  obtained  by  man's  free 
and  joyous  activity.  Art  should  cause  violence  to  be  set 

And  it  is  only  art  that  can  accomplish  this. 

All  that  now,  independently  of  the  fear  of  violence  ano! 
punishment,  makes  the  social  life  of  man  possible  (and 
already  now  this  is  an  enormous  part  of  the  order  of  our 
lives) — all  this  has  been  brought  about  by  art.  If  by  art 
it  has  been  inculcated  how  people  should  treat  religious 
objects,  their  parents,  their  children,  their  wives,  their 
relations,  strangers,  foreigners;  how  to  conduct  themselves 
to  their  elders,  their  superiors,  to  those  who  suffer,  to- 

WHAT  IS  ART?  211 

their  enemies,  and  to  animals  ;  and  if  this  h  •••* 
through  generations  by  millions    of    people,  not    only  un- 
enforced  by  any  violence,   but  so  that  the  foi  »$   of   \ 
customs  can  be  shaken  in  no  way  but  by  means  of  art : 
then,    by   the    same    art,   other    customs,    more   in 
with  the  religious  perception  of  our  time,  may  be  e\  it 
If  art  has  been  able  to  convey  the  sentiment  of  reverence 
for  images,  for  the  eucharist,  and  for  the   king's   person 
of  shame  at  betraying  a  comrade,  devotion  to  a  flag,  the 
necessity  of  revenge  for  an  insult,  the  need  to  sacrifice  one's 
labour   for  the   erection   and  adornment  of   churches,  the 
duty  of  defending  one's  honour  or  the  glory  of  one's  native 
land — then  that  same  art  can  also  evoke  reverence  for  the- 
dignity  of  every  man  and  for  the  life  of  every  animal ;  can 
make  men  ashamed  of  luxury,  of  violence,  of  revenge,  or  of 
using  for  their  pleasure  that  of  which  others  are  in  need  \ 
can  compel  people  freely,  gladly,  and  without  noticing  it,, 
to  sacrifice  themselves  in  the  service  of  man. 

The  task  for  art  to  accomplish  is  to  make  that  feeling 
of  brotherhood  and  love  of  one's  neighbour,  now  attained 
only  by  the  best  members  of  the  society,  the  customary 
feeling  and  the  instinct  of  all  men.  By  evoking,  under 
imaginary  conditions,  the  feeling  of  brotherhood  and  love,, 
religious  art  will  train  men  to  experience  those  same 
feelings  under  similar  circumstances  in  actual  life ;  it  will 
lay  in  the  souls  of  men  the  rails  along  which  the  actions 
of  those  whom  art  thus  educates  will  naturally  pass.  And 
universal  art,  by  uniting  the  most  different  people  in  one 
common  feeling,  by  destroying  separation,  will  educate 
people  to  union,  will  show  them,  not  by  reason  but  by  life 
itself,  the  joy  of  universal  union  reaching  beyond  the  bounds 
set  by  life. 

The  destiny  of  art  in  our  time  is  to  transmit  from  the 
realm  of  reason  to  the  realm  of  feeling  the  truth  that  well- 
being  for  men  consists  in  being  united  together,  and  to  set 

212  WHAT  IS  ART? 

up,  in  place  of  the  existing  reign  of  force,  that  kingdom  of 
God,  i.e.  of  love,  which  we  all  recognise  to  be  the  highest 
aim  of  human  life. 

Possibly,  in  the  future,  science  may  reveal  to  art  yet 
newer  and  higher  ideals,  which  art  may  realise ;  but,  in  our 
time,  the  destiny  of  art  is  clear  and  definite.  The  task  for 
Christian  art  is  to  establish  brotherly  union  among  men. 




This  is  the  first  page  of  Mallarm^'s  book  Divagations : — • 

Un.  ciel  pale,  sur  le  monde  qui  finit  de  decrepitude,  va 
peut-etre  partir  avec  les  images  :  les  lambeaux  de  la  pourpre 
usee  des  couchants  deteignent  dans  ime  riviere  dormant  a 
Fhorizon  submerge  de  rayons  et  d'eau.  Les  arbres  s'ennuient, 
et,  sous  leur  feuillage  blanchi  (de  la  poussiere  du  temps 
plutot  que  celle  des  chemins)  monte  la  maison  en  toile  de 
Montreur  de  choses  Passees :  maint  ruverbere  attend  le 
crepuscule  et  ravive  les  visages  d'ime  malheureuse  foule, 
vaincue  par  la  maladie  immortelle  et  le  pe'che  des  siecles, 
d'hommes  pres  de  leurs  chetives  complices  enceintes  des 
fruits  miserables  avec  lesquels  perira  la  terre.  Dans  le 
silence  inquiet  de  tous  les  yeux  suppliant  la-bas  le  soleil  qui, 
sous  1'eau,  s'enfonce  avec  le  desespoir  d'un  cri,  voici  le 
simple  boniment :  "iSTulle  enseigne  ne  vous  regale  du 
spectacle  interieur,  car  il  n'est  pas  maintenant  un  peintre 
capable  d'en  donner  une  ombre  triste.  J'apporte,  vivante 
(et  preservee  a  travers  les  ans  par  la  science  souveraine)  une 
Femme  d'autrefois.  Quelque  folie,  originelle  et  naive,  une 
extase  d'or,  je  ne  sais  quoi !  par  elle  nomme  sa  chevelure,  se 

2i 6  WHAT  IS  ART? 

ploie  avec  la  grace  ties  e'toffes  autour  d'un  visage  qu'  eclaire 
la  nudito  sanglante  de  ses  levres.  A  la  place  du  vetement 
vain,  elle  a  un  corps  ;  et  les  yeux,  semblables  aux  pierres 
rares  !  ne  valent  pas  ce  regard  qui  sort  de  sa  chair  heureuse  : 
des  seins  leves  comme  s'ils  etaient  pleins  d'un  lait  eternel,  la 
pointe  vers  le  ciel,  les  jambes  lisses  qui  gardent  le  sel  de  la 
me i1  premiere."  Se  rappelant  leurs  pauvres  Spouses,  chauves, 
morbides  et  pleines  d'horreur,  les  maris  se  pressent :  elles 
aussi  par  curiosite,  melancoliques,  veulent  voir. 

Quand  tons  auront  cbntemple  la  noble  creature,  vestige 
de  quelque  cpoque  deja  maudite,  les  uns  indifferents,  car  ils 
n'auront  pas  eu  la  force  de  comprendre,  mais  d'autres  navres 
et  la  paupiere  humide  de  larmes  resignees,  se  regarderont ; 
tandis  one  les  poetes  de  ces  temps,  sentant  se  rallumer  leur 
yeux  eteints,  s'achemineront  vers  leur  lampe,  le  cerveau  ivre 
mi  instant  d'une  gloire  confuse,  hantes  du  Ry  thine  et  dans 
1'oubli  d'exister  a  une  epoque  qui  survit  a  la  beaute. 


A  pale  sky,  above  the  world  that  is  ending  through  decrepitude, 
going  perhaps  to  pass  away  with  the  clouds  :  shreds  of  worn-out 
purple  of  the  sunsets  wash  off  their  colour  in  a  river  sleeping  on  the 
horizon,  submerged  with  rays  and  water.  The  trees  are  weary  and, 
beneath  their  foliage,  whitened  (by  the  dust  of  time  rather  than  that 
of  the  roads),  rises  the  canvas  house  of  "Showman  of  things  Past." 
Many  a  lamp  awaits  the  gloaming  and  brightens  the  faces  of  a 
miserable  crowd  vanquished  by  the  immortal  illness  and  the  sin  of 
ages,  of  men  by  the  sides  of  their  puny  accomplices  pregnant  with 
the  miserable  fruit  with  which  the  world  will  perish..  In  the  anxious 
silence  of  all  the  eyes  supplicating  the  sun  there,  which  sinks  under 
the  water  with  the  desperation  of  a  cry,  this  is  the  plain  announcement : 
' '  No  sign-board  now  regales  you  with  the  spectacle  that  is  inside,  for 
there  is  no  painter  now  capable  of  giving  even  a  sad  shadow  of  it.  I 
bring  living  (and  preserved  by  sovereign  science  through  the  years)  a 
Woman  of  other  days.  Some  kind  of  folly,  naive  and  original,  an 
ecstasy  of  gold,  I  know  not  what,  by  her  called  her  hair,  clings  with 
the  grace  of  some  material  round  a  face  brightened  by  the  blood-red 
nudity  of  her  lips.  In  place  of  vain  clothing,  she  has  a  body  ;  and 

WHAT  IS  ART?  217 

her  eyes,  resembling  precious  stones  !  arc  not  worth  that  look,  which 
comes  from  her  happy  flesh  :  breasts  raised  as  if  full  of  eternal  milk, 
the  points  towards  the  sky  ;  the  smooth  legs,  that  keep  the  salt  of  the 
first  sea."  Remembering  their  poor  spouses,  bald,  morbid,  and  full  of 
horrors,  the  husbands  press  forward  :  the  women  too,  from  curiosity, 
gloomily  wish  to  see. 

When  all  shall  have  contemplated  the  noble  creature,  vestige  of 
some  epoch  already  damned,  some  indifferently,  for  they  will  not  have 
had  strength  to  understand,  but  others  broken-hearted  and  with  eye 
lids  wet  with  tears  of  resignation,  will  look  at  each  other  ;  while  the 
poets  of  those  times,  feeling  their  dim  eyes  rekindled,  will  make  their 
way  towards  their  lamp,  their  brain  for  an  instant  drunk  with  con 
fused  glory,  haunted  by  Rhythm  and  forgetful  that  they  exist  at  an 
epoch  which  has  survived  beauty. 


Xo.   1. 

Tlie  following  verses  are  by  Viele-Griffin,  from  page  28 
of  a  volume  of  his  Poems  : — 



Sait-tu  1'oubli 
D'un  vain  doux  rove, 
Oiseau  moquenr 
De  la  foret? 
Le  jour  palit, 
La  nuit  se  leve, 
Et  dans  mon  cceur 
L 'ombre  a  pleure ; 


0  chante-moi 

Ta  folle  garnme, 

Car  j'ai  dormi 

Ce  jour  durant; 

Le  lache  emoi 

Ou  fut  mon  ame 

Sanglote  ennui 

Le  jour  mourant  .  .  . 


Sais-tu  le  chant 
De  sa  parole 
Et  de  sa  voix, 
Toi  qui  redis 
Dans  le  couchant 
Ton  air  frivole 
Comme  autrefois 
Sous  les  midis  ? 


O  chante  alors 
La  melodie 
De  son  amour, 
Mon  fol  espoir, 
Parmi  les  ors 
Et  1'incendie 
Du  vain  doux  jour 
Qui  meurt  ce  soir. 

1  The  translations  in  Appendices  L,  II.,  and  IV.,  are  by  Louise 
Maude.  The  aim  of  these  renderings  has  been  to  keep  as  close  to  the 
originals  as  the  obscurity  of  meaning  allowed.  The  sense  (or  absence 
of  sense)  has  therefore  been  more  considered  than  the  form  of  the 


WHAT  IS  ART?  219 


1.  3. 

Canst  thou  forget,  That  music  sweet, 

In  dreams  so  vain,  Ah,  do  you  know 

Oh,  mocking  bird  Her  voice  and  speech? 

Of  forest  deep  ?  Your  airs  so  light 

The  day  doth  set,  You  who  repeat 

Night  comes  again,  In  sunset's  glow, 

My  heart  has  heard  As  you  sang,  each, 

The  shadows  weep ;  At  noonday's  height. 

2.  4. 
Thy  tones  let  flow                             Of  my  desire, 

In  maddening  scale,  My  hope  so  bold, 

For  I  have  slept  Her  love — up,  sing, 

The  livelong  day ;  Sing  'neath  this  light, 

Emotions  low  This  flaming  fire, 

In  me  now  wail,  And  all  the  gold 

My  soul  they've  kept :  The  eve  doth  bring 

Light  dies  away  .  .  .  Ere  comes  the  night. 

No.   2. 

And  here  are  some  verses  by  the  esteemed  young  poet 
Verhaeren,  which  I  also  take  from  page  28  of  his  Works : — 


Lointainement,  et  si  etrangement  pareils, 

De  grands  masques  d'argent  que  la  brume  recule, 

Vaguent,  au  jour  tombant,  autour  des  vieux  soleils. 

Les  doux  lointaines  ! — et  comme,  au  fond  du  cropuscule, 
Us  nous  lixent  le  creur,  immensement  le  cceur, 
Avec  les  yeux  dcfunts  de  leur  visage  d'ame. 

C'est  toujours  du  silence,  a  nioins,  dans  la  puleur 
Du  soir,  un  jet  de  feu  sondain,  un  cri  de  flamme, 
Un  depart  de  lumiere  inattendu  vers  Dieu. 

220  WHAT  IS  ART? 

On  se  laisse  charmer  et  trembler  de  mysterc, 
Et  Ton  dirait  des  morts  qui  taisent  un  adieu 
Trop  mystique,  pour  etre  ecoute  par  la  terre  ! 

Sont-ils  le  souvenir  materiel  et  clair 

Des  ephebes  chretiens  couches  aux  catacombes 

Parmi  les  lys?     Sont-ils  leur  regard  et  leur  chair? 

Ou  seul,  ce  qui  survit  de  merveilleux  aux  tombes 
De  ceux  qui  sont  partis,  vers  leurs  reves,  un  soir, 
Conquerir  la  folie  a  1'assaut  des  nuees  ? 

Lointainement,  combien  nous  les  sentons  vouloir 
Un  peu  d'amour  pour  leurs  ceuvres  destitutes, 
Tour  leur  errance  et  leur  tristesse  aux  horizons. 

Toujours  !  aux  horizons  du  cceur  et  des  pensues, 
Alors  que  les  vieux  soirs  eclatent  en  blasons 
Soudains,  pour  les  gloires  noires  et  angoissees. 



Large  masks  of  silver,  by  mists  drawn  away, 

So  strangely  alike,  yet  so  far  apart, 

Float  round  the  old  suns  when  faileth  the  day. 

They  transfix  our  heart,  so  immensely  our  heart, 
Those  distances  mild,  in  the  twilight  deep, 
Looking  out  of  dead  faces  with  their  spirit  eyes. 

All  around  is  now  silence,  except  when  there  leap 
In  the  pallor  of  evening,  with  fiery  cries, 
Some  fountains  of  flame  that  God-ward  do  fly. 

Mysterious  trouble  and  charms  us  enfold. 

You  might  think  that  the  dead  spoke  a  silent  good-bye, 

Oh  !  too  mystical  far  on  earth  to  be  told  ! 

/ VHA  T  IS  A  R  T?  221 

Are  they  the  memories,  material  and  bright, 
Of  the  Christian  youths  that  in  catacombs  sleep 
'Mid  the  lilies  ?     Are  they  their  flesh  or  their  sight  ? 

Or  the  marvel  alone  that  survives,  in  the  deep, 
Of  those  that,  one  night,  returned  to  their  dream 
Of  conquering  folly  by  assaulting  the  skies  ? 

For  their  destitute  works — we  feel  it  seems, 

For  a  little  love  their  longing  cries 

From  horizons  far — for  their  errings  and  pain. 

In  horizons  ever  of  heart  and  thought, 
While  the  evenings  old  in  bright  blaze  wane 
Suddenly,  for  black  glories  anguish  fraught. 

Xo.  3. 

And  the  following  is  a  poem,  by  Moreas,  evidently  an 
admirer  of  Greek  beauty.  It  is  from  page  28  of  a  volume 
of  his  Poems  : — 


Enone,  j'avais  cru  qu'eii  aimant  ta  beaute 

Ou  Fame  avec  le  corps  trouvent  leur  unite, 

J'allais,  m'affermissant  et  le  coeur  et  1'esprit, 

Monter  jusqu'a  cela  qui  janiais  lie  perit, 

N'ayant  et£  cree,  qui  n'est  froideur  ou  feu, 

Qui  n'est  beau  quelque  part  et  laid  en  autre  lieu ; 

Et  me  flattais  encor'  d'une  belle  harmonic 

Que  j'eusse  compose  du  meilleur  et  du  pire, 

Ainsi  que  le  chanteur  qui  cherit  Polimnie, 

En  accordant  le  grave  avec  1'aigu,  retire 

Un  son  bien  eleve  sur  les  nerfs  de  sa  lyre. 

Mais  mon  courage,  helas  !  se  pamant  comme  mort, 

M'enseigna  que  le  trait  qui  m'avait  fait  amant 

JN"e  fut  pas  de  cet  arc  que  courbe  sans  effort 

La  Venus  qui  naquit  du  male  seulement, 


Mais  que  j 'avals  souffert  cette  Yunus  derniere, 

Qui  a  le  coeur  couard,  ne  d'une  faible  mere. 

Et  pourtant,  ce  mauvais  gar§on,  chasseur  habile, 

Qui  charge  son  carquois  de  sagette  subtile, 

Qui  secoue  en  riant  sa  torche,  pour  un  jour, 

Qui  ne  pose  jamais  que  sur  de  tendres  fleurs, 

C'est  sur  un  teint  charmant  qu'il  essuie  les  pleurs, 

Et  c'est  encore  un  Dieu,  Enone,  cet  Amour. 

Mais,  laisse,  les  oiseaux  du  printemps  sont  partis, 

Et  je  vois  les  rayons  du  soleil  amortis. 

Enone,  ma  douleur,  harmonieux  visage, 

Superbe  humilite,  doux  honnete  langage, 

Hier  me  remirant  dans  cet  etang  glace 

Qui  an  bout  du  jardin  se  couvre  de  feuillage, 

Sur  ma  face  je  vis  que  les  jours  ont  passe. 



Enone,  in  loving  thy  beauty,  I  thought, 

"Where  the  soul  and  the  body  to  union  are  brought, 

That  mounting  by  steadying  my  heart  and  my  mind, 

In  that  which  can't  perish,  myself  I  should  find. 

For  it  ne'er  was  created,  is  not  ugly  and  fair  ; 

Is  not  coldness  in  one  part,  while  on  fire  it  is  there. 

Yes,  I  flattered  myself  that  a  harmony  fine 

I'd  succeed  to  compose  of  the  worst  and  the  best, 

Like  the  bard  who  adores  Polyhymnia  divine, 

And  mingling  sounds  different  from  the  nerves  of  his  lyre.. 

From  the  grave  and  the  smart  draws  melodies  higher. 

But,  alas  !  my  courage,  so  faint  and  nigh  spent, 

The  dart  that  has  struck  me  proves  without  fail 

Not  to  be  from  that  bow  which  is  easily  bent 

By  the  Venus  that's  born  alone  of  the  male. 

No,  'twas  that  other  Yenus  that  caused  me  to  smart, 

Born  of  frail  mother  with  cowardly  heart. 

And  yet  that  naughty  lad,  that  little  hunter  bold, 

Who  laughs  and  shakes  his  flowery  torch  just  for  a  day,, 

Who  never  rests  but  upon  tender  flowers  and  gay, 

WHAT  IS  ART?  223 

On  sweetest  skin  who  dries  the  tears  his  eyes  that  fill, 

Yet  oh,  Enone  mine,  a  God's  that  Cupid  still. 

Let  it  pass  ;  for  the  birds  of  the  Spring  are  away. 

And  dying  I  see  the  sun's  lingering  ray. 

Enone,  my  sorrow,  oh,  harmonious  face, 

Humility  grand,  words  of  virtue  and  grace, 

I  looked  yestere'en  in  the  pond  frozen  fast, 

Strewn  with  leaves  at  the  end  of  the  garden's  fair  space, 

And  I  read  in  my  face  that  those  days  are  now  past. 

No.  4. 

And  this  is  also   from  page  28  of  a  thick  book,  full  of 
similar  Poems,  by  M.  Montesquieu. 


Des  formes,  des  formes,  des  formes 
Blanche,  bleue,  et  rose,  et  d'or 
Descendront  du  haut  des  ormes 
Sur  1'enfant  qui  se  rendort. 
Des  formes  ! 

Des  plumes,  des  plumes,  des  plumes 
Pour  composer  un  doux  nid. 
Midi  sonne :  les  enclumes 
Cessent;  la  rumeur  finit  .   .  . 
Des  plumes ! 

Des  roses,  des  roses,  des  roses 
Pour  embaumer  son  sommeil, 
Vos  petales  sont  moroses 
Pros  du  sourire  vermeil. 
0  roses  ! 

Des  ailes,  des  ailes,  des  ailes 
Pour  bourdonner  a  son  front, 
Abeilles  et  demoiselles, 
Des  rythmes  qui  berceront. 
Des  ailes ! 

224  WHAT  IS  ART? 

Des  branches,  des  branches,  des  branches 
Pour  tresser  un  pavilion, 
Par  ou  des  elartes  moms  franches 
Descendront  sur  1'oisillon. 
Des  branches ! 

Des  songes,  des  songes,  des  songcs 
Dans  ses  pensers  entr'  ouverts 
Glissez  un  peu  de  mensonges 
A  voir  le  vie  au  travers 
Des  songes  ! 

Des  fees,  des  fees,  des  fees, 
Pour  filer  leurs  echeveaux 
Des  mirages,  de  bouffees 
Dans  tous  ces  petits  cerveaux. 
Des  fees. 

Des  anges,  des  aiiges,  des  anges 
Pour  emporter  dans  Tether 
Les  petits  enfants  etranges 
Qui  ne  veulent  pas  rester  .  .  . 
Xos  anges  ! 

Les  Hortensias  Bleus. 


Oh  forms,  oil  forms,  oh  forms 
White,  blue,  and  gold,  and  red 
Descending  from  the  elm  trees, 
On  sleeping  baby's  head. 
Oh  forms  ! 

Oh  feathers,  feathers,   feathers 
To  make  a  cosy  nest. 
Twelve  striking :  stops  the  clamour  ; 
The  anvils  are  at  rest  .  .  . 
Oh  feathers  ! 

WHAT  IS  ART?  225 

Oh  roses,  roses,  roses 
To  scent  his  sleep  awhile, 
Pale  are  your  fragrant  petals 
Beside  his  ruby  smile. 

Oh  roses ! 

Oil  wings,  oh  wings,  oh  wings 
01'  bees  and  dragon-Hies, 
To  hum  around  his  forehead, 
And  lull  him  with  your  sighs. 
Oh  wings  ! 

Branches,  branches,  branches 
A  shady  bower  to  twine, 
Through  which,  oh  daylight,  faintly 
Descend  on  birdie  mine. 
Branches  ! 

Oh  dreams,  oh  dreams,  oh  dreams 
Into  his  opening  mind, 
Let  in  a  little  falsehood 
With  sights  of  life  behind. 
Dreams  ! 

Oh  fairies,  fairies,  fairies, 
To  twine  and  twist  their  threads 
With  puffs  of  phantom  visions 
Into  these  little  heads. 
Fairies  ! 

Angels,  angels,  angels 
To  the  ether  far  away, 
Those  children  strange  to  carry 
That  here  don't  wish  to  stay  .   .  . 
Our  angels  ! 


These  are  the  contents  of  The  Nilelunrfs  Ring : — 

The  first  part  tells  that  the  nymphs,  the  daughters  of  the 
Rhine,  for  some  reason  guard  gold  in  the  Rhine,  and  sing : 
Wcia,  Waga,  Woge  du  Welle,  Walle  zur  Wiege,  Wagala- 
weia,  Wallala,  Weiala,  Wcia,  and  so  forth. 

These  singing  nymphs  are  pursued  by  a  gnome  (a 
nibelung)  who  desires  to  seize  them.  The  gnome  cannot 
catch  any  of  them.  Then  the  nymphs  guarding  the  gold 
tell  the  gnome  just  what  they  ought  to  keep  secret,  namely, 
that  whoever  renounces  love  will  be  able  to  steal  the  gold 
they  are  guarding.  And  the  gnome  renounces  love,  and 
steals  the  gold.  This  ends  the  first  scene. 

In  the  second  scene  a  god  and  a  goddess  lie  in  a  field  in 
sight  of  a  castle  which  giants  have  built  for  them.  Presently 
they  wake  up  and  are  pleased  with  the  castle,  and  they 
relate  that  in  payment  for  this  work  they  must  give  the 
goddess  Freia  to  the  giants.  The  giants  come  for  their  pay. 
But  the  god  Wotan  objects  to  parting  with  Freia.  The 
giants  get  angry.  The  gods  hear  that  the  gnome  has  stolen 
the  gold,  promise  to  confiscate  it  and  to  pay  the  giants  with 
it.  But  the  giants  won't  trust  them,  and  seize  the  goddess 
Freia  in  pledge. 

The  third  scene  takes  place  under  ground.  The  gnome 
Alberich,  who  stole  the  gold,  for  some  reason  beats  a  gnome, 
Mime,  and  takes  from  him  a  helmet  which  has  the  power 
both  of  making  people  invisible  and  of  turning  them  into 
other  animals.  The  gods,  Wotan  and  others,  appear  and 


WHAT  IS  ART?  227 

quarrel  with  one  another  and  with  the  gnomes,  and  wish  to 
take  the  gold,  but  Alberich  won't  give  it  up,  and  (like  every 
body  all  through  the  piece)  behaves  in  a  way  to  ensure  his 
own  ruin.  He  puts  on  the  helmet,  and  becomes  first  a 
dragon  and  then  a  toad.  The  gods  catch  the  toad, 
take  the  helmet  off  it,  and  carry  Alberich  away  with 

Scene  IV.  The  gods  bring  Alberich  to  their  home,  and 
order  him  to  command  his  gnomes  to  bring  them  all  the 
gold.  The  gnomes  bring  it.  Alberich  gives  up  the  gold, 
but  keeps  a  magic  ring.  The  gods  take  the  ring.  So 
Alberich  curses  the  ring,  and  says  it  is  to  bring  misfortune 
on  anyone  who  has  it.  The  giants  appear ;  they  bring  the 
goddess  Freia,  and  demand  her  ransom.  They  stick  up 
staves  of  Freia's  height,  and  gold  is  poured  in  between  these 
staves  :  this  is  to  be  the  ransom.  There  is  not  enough  gold, 
so  the  helmet  is  thrown  in,  and  they  also  demand  the  ring. 
"\Votan  refuses  to  give  it  up,  but  the  goddess  Erda  appears 
and  commands  him  to  do  so,  because  it  brings  misfortune. 
Wotan  gives  it  up.  Freia  is  released.  The  giants,  having 
received  the  ring,  fight,  and  one  of  them  kills  the  other. 
This  ends  the  Prelude,  and  we  come  to  the  First  Day. 

The  scene  shows  a  house  in  a  tree.  Siegmund  runs  in 
tired,  and  lies  down.  Sieglinda,  the  mistress  of  the  house 
(and  wife  of  Hunding),  gives  him  a  drugged  draught,  and 
they  fall  in  love  with  each  other.  Sieglinda's  husband 
conies  home,  learns  that  Siegmund  belongs  to  a  hostile  race, 
and  wishes  to  fight  him  next  day ;  but  Sieglinda  drugs  her 
husband,  and  comes  to  Siegmund.  Siegmund  discovers  that 
Sieglinda  is  his  sister,  and  that  his  father  drove  a  sword  into 
the  tree  so  that  no  one  can  get  it  out.  Siegmund  pulls  the 
sword  out,  and  commits  incest  with  his  sister. 

Act  II.  Siegmund  is  to  fight  with  Hunding.  The  gods 
discuss  the  question  to  whom  they  shall  award  the  victory. 
Wotan,  approving  of  Siegmund's  incest  with  his  sister, 

228  WHAT  IS  ART? 

wishes  to  spare  him,  but,  under  pressure  from  his  wife, 
Fricka,  he  orders  the  Valkyrie  Briinnhilda  to  kill  Siegmund. 
Siegmund  goes  to  fight ;  Sieglinda  faints.  Briinnhilda  ap 
pears  and  wishes  to  slay  Siegmund.  Siegmund  wishes  to 
kill  Sieglinda  also,  but  Briinnhilda  does  not  allow  it ;  so  he 
fights  with  Hunding.  Briinnhilda  defends  Siegmund,  but 
Wotan  defends  Hunding.  Siegmund's  sword  breaks,  and 
lie  is  killed.  Sieglinda  runs  away. 

Act  III.  The  Valkyries  (divine  Amazons)  are  on  the 
stage.  The  Valkyrie  Briinnhilda  arrives  on  horseback, 
bringing  Siegmund's  body.  She  is  flying  from  Wotan, 
who  is  chasing  her  for  her  disobedience.  Wotan  catches 
her,  and  as  a  punishment  dismisses  her  from  her  post 
as  a  Valkyrie.  He  casts  a  spell  on  her,  so  that  she  has 
to  go  to  sleep  and  to  continue  asleep  until  a  man  wakes 
her.  When  someone  wakes  her  she  will  fall  in  love  with 
him.  Wotan  kisses  her ;  she  falls  asleep.  He  lets  off  fire, 
which  surrounds  her. 

We  now  come  to  the  Second  Day.  The  gnome  Mime 
forges  a  sword  in  a  wood.  Siegfried  appears.  He  is  a  son 
born  from  the  incest  of  brother  with  sister  (Siegmund  with 
Sieglinda),  and  has  been  brought  up  in  this  wood  by  the 
gnome.  In  general  the  motives  of  the  actions  of  everybody 
in  this  production  are  quite  unintelligible.  Siegfried  learns 
his  own  origin,  and  that  the  broken  sword  was  his  father's. 
He  orders  Mime  to  reforge  it,  and  then  goes  off.  Wotan 
comes  in  the  guise  of  a  wanderer,  and  relates  what  will 
happen :  that  he  who  has  not  learnt  to  fear  will  forge  the 
sword,  and  will  defeat  everybody.  The  gnome  conjectures 
that  this  is  Siegfried,  and  wants  to  poison  him.  Siegfried 
returns,  forges  his  father's  sword,  and  runs  off,  shout 
ing,  Heiho  !  heiho  !  heiho  !  Ho  !  ho  !  Aha !  oho  !  aha  ! 
Heiaho  !  heiaho  !  heiaho  !  Ho  !  ho  !  Hahei !  hoho  ! 
hahei ! 

And  we  get  to  Act  II.     Alberich  sits  guarding  a  giant, 

/ VHA  T  IS  ART?  229 

who,  in  form  of  a  dragon,  guards  the  gold  he  has  received. 
Wotan  appears,  and  for  some  unknown  reason  foretells  that 
Siegfried  will  come  and  kill  the  dragon.  Alberich  wakes 
the  dragon,  and  asks  him  for  the  ring,  promising  to  defend 
him  from  Siegfried.  The  dragon  won't  give  up  the  ring. 
Exit  Alberich.  Mime  and  Siegfried  appear.  Mime  hopes 
the  dragon  will  teach  Siegfried  to  fear.  But  Siegfried 
does  not  fear.  He  drives  Mime  away  and  kills  the  dragon, 
after  which  he  puts  his  finger,  smeared  with  the  dragon's 
blood,  to  his  lips.  This  enables  him  to  know  men's  secret 
thoughts,  as  well  as  the  language  of  birds.  The  birds  tell 
him  where  the  treasure  and  the  ring  are,  and  also  that  Mime 
wishes  to  poison  him.  Mime  returns,  and  says  out  loud 
that  he  wishes  to  poison  Siegfried.  This  is  meant  to  signify 
that  Siegfried,  having  tasted  dragon's  blood,  understands 
people's  secret  thoughts.  Siegfried,  having  learnt  Mime's 
intentions,  kills  him.  The  birds  tell  Siegfried  where  Briinn- 
hilda  is,  and  he  goes  to  find  her. 

Act  III.  Wotan  calls  up  Erda.  Erda  prophesies  ta 
Wotan,  and  gives  him  advice.  Siegfried  appears,  quarrels 
with  Wotan,  and  they  fight.  Suddenly  Siegfried's  sword 
breaks  Wotan's  spear,  which  had  been  more  powerful  than 
anything  else.  Siegfried  goes  into  the  fire  to  Briinnhilda ;. 
kisses  her ;  she  wakes  up,  abandons  her  divinity,  and  throws 
herself  into  Siegfried's  arms. 

Third  Day.  Prelude.  Three  Xorns  plait  a  golden  rope, 
and  talk  about  the  future.  They  go  away.  Siegfried  and 
Briinnhilda  appear.  Siegfried  takes  leave  of  her,  gives  her 
the  ring,  and  goes  away. 

Act  I.  By  the  Ehine.  A  king  wants  to  get  married,  and 
also  to  give  his  sister  in  marriage.  Hagen,  the  king's 
wicked  brother,  advises  him  to  marry  Briinnhilda,  and  to 
give  his  sister  to  Siegfried.  Siegfried  appears ;  they  give 
him  a  drugged  draught,  which  makes  him  forget  all  the  past 
and  fall  in  love  with  the  king's  sister,  Gutrune.  So  ho  rides- 

230  WHAT  IS  ART? 

off  with  Gunther,  the  king,  to  get  Briinnhilda  to  be  the 
king's  bride.  The  scene  changes.  Briinnhilda  sits  with  the 
ring,  A  Valkyrie  comes  to  her  and  tells  her  that  Wotan's 
spear  is  broken,  and  advises  her  to  give  the  ring  to  the 
Rhine  nymphs.  Siegfried  comes,  and  by  means  of  the  magic 
helmet  turns  himself  into  Gunther,  demands  the  ring  from 
Briinnhilda,  seizes  it,  and  drags  her  off  to  sleep  with 

Act  II.  By  the  Eh  inc.  Alberich  and  llagen  discuss  how 
to  get  the  ring.  Siegfried  comes,  tells  how  he  has  obtained 
a  bride  for  Gunther  and  spent  the  night  with  her,  but 
put  a  sword  between  himself  and  her.  Briinnhilda  rides 
up,  recognises  the  ring  on  Siegfried's  hand,  and  declares 
that  it  was  he,  and  not  Gunther,  who  was  with  her.  Hagen 
stirs  everybody  up  against  Siegfried,  and  decides  to  kill  him 
n-ext  day  when  hunting. 

Act  III.  Again  the  nymphs  in  the  Rhine  relate  what  has 
happened.  Siegfried,  who  has  lost  his  way,  appears.  The 
nymphs  ask  him  for  the  ring,  but  he  won't  give  it  up.  Hunters 
appear.  Siegfried  tells  the  story  of  his  life.  Hagen  then 
gives  him  a  draught,  which  causes  his  memory  to  return  to 
him.  Siegfried  relates  how  he  aroused  and  obtained  Briinn 
hilda,  and  everyone  is  astonished.  Hagen  stabs  him  in  the 
back,  and  the  scene  is  changed.  Gutrune  meets  the  corpse 
of  Siegfried.  Gunther  and  Hagen  quarrel  about  the  ring,  and 
Hagen  kills  Gunther.  Briinnhilda  cries.  Hagen  wishes  to 
take  the  ring  from  Siegfried's  hand,  but  the  hand  of  the  corpse 
raises  itself  threateningly.  Briinnhilda  takes  the  ring  from 
Siegfried's  hand,  and  when  Siegfried's  corpse  is  carried  to 
the  pyre  she  gets  on  to  a  horse  and  leaps  into  the  fire.  The 
Rhine  rises,  and  the  waves  reach  the  pyre.  In  the  river  are 
three  nymphs.  Hagen  throws  himself  into  the  fire  to  get 
the  ring,  but  the  nymphs  seize  him  and  carry  him  off.  '  One 
of  them  holds  the  ring;  and  that  is  the  end  of  the 

WHAT  IS  ART?  231 

The  impression  obtainable  from  my  recapitulation  is,  of 
course,  incomplete.  But  however  incomplete  it  may  be,  it 
is  certainly  infinitely  more  favourable  than  the  impression 
which  results  from  reading  the  four  booklets  in  which  the 
work  is  printed. 


Translations    of    French    poems    and    prose    quoted    in 
liapter  X. 

No.  XXIV. 

I  adore  tliec  as  much  as  the  vaults  of  night, 

0  vase  full  of  grief,   taciturnity  great, 

And  I  love  thee  the  more  because  of  thy  flight. 
It  seemeth,  my  night's  beautifier,  that  you 
Still  heap  up  those  leagues — yes  !  ironically  heap  ! — • 
That  divide  from  my  arms  the  immensity  blue. 

1  advance  to  attack,   I  climb  to  assault, 

Like  a  choir  of  young  worms  at  a  corpse  in  the  vault ; 

Thy  coldness,  oh  cruel,  implacable  beast  ! 

Yet  heightens  thy  beauty,   on  which  my  eyes  feast ! 


No.  XXXVI. 
D  U EL  L  U M. 

Two  warriors  come  running,  to  fight  they  begin, 
With  gleaming  and  blood  they  bespatter  the  air  ; 
These  games,  and  this  clatter  of  arms,  is  the  din 
Of  youth  that's  a  prey  to  the  surgings  of  love. 

The  rapiers  are  broken  !  and  so  is  our  youth, 
But  the  dagger's  avenged,  dear  !  and  so  is  the  sword, 
By  the  nail  that  is  steeled  and  the  hardened  tooth. 
Oh,  the  fury  of  hearts  aged  and  ulcered  by  love  ! 

In  the  ditch,  where  the  ounce  and  the  pard  have  their  lair, 
Our  heroes  have  rolled  in  an  angry  embrace  ; 

Their  skin  blooms  on  brambles  that  erewhile  were  bare. 

WHAT  IS  ART?  233 

That  ravine  is  a  friend -inhabited  hell  ! 
Then  let  us  roll  in,  oh  woman  inhuman, 
To  immortalise  hatred  that  nothing  can  quell  ! 



Whom  dost  thou  love  best  ?  say,  enigmatical  man — thy  father, 
thy  mother,  thy  brother,  or  thy  sister  ? 

"  I  have  neither  father,  nor  mother,  nor  sister,  nor  brother." 

Thy  friends  ? 

"  You  there  use  an  expression  the  meaning  of  which  till  now  remains 
unknown  to  me. " 

Thy  country  ? 

"  I  ignore  in  what  latitude  it  is  situated." 

Beauty  ? 

"I  would  gladly  love  her,  goddess  and  immortal." 


"  I  hate  it  as  you  hate  God." 

Then  what  do  you  love,  extraordinary  stranger  ? 

"I  love  the  clouds  .  .  .  the  clouds  that  pass  .  .  .  there  .  .  .  the 
marvellous  clouds  ! " 



My  beloved  little  silly  was  giving  me  my  dinner,  and  I  was  con 
templating,  through  the  open  window  of  the  dining-room,  those  moving 
architectures  which  God  makes  out  of  vapours,  the  marvellous  con 
structions  of  the  impalpable.  And  I  said  to  myself,  amid  my 
contemplations,  "  All  these  phantasmagoria  are  almost  as  beautiful  as 
the  eyes  of  my  beautiful  beloved,  the  monstrous  little  silly  with  the 
green  eyes." 

Suddenly  I  felt  the  violent  blow  of  a  fist  on  my  back,  and  I  heard 
a  harsh,  charming  voice,  an  hysterical  voice,  as  it  were  hoarse  with 
brandy,  the  voice  of  my  dear  little  well-beloved,  saying,  "  Are  you 
going  to  eat  your  soup  soon,  you  d b of  a  dealer  in  clouds  ?  " 

234  WHAT  IS  ART? 


As  the  carriage  was  passing  through  the  forest,  he  ordered  it  to  be 
stopped  near  a  shooting-gallery,  saying  that  he  wished  to  shoot  off  a 
few  bullets  to  kill  Time.  To  kill  this  monster,  is  it  not  the  most 
ordinary  and  the  most  legitimate  occupation  of  everyone  ?  And  he 
gallantly  offered  his  arm  to  his  dear,  delicious,  and  execrable  wife — 
that  mysterious  woman  to  whom  he  owed  so  much  pleasure,  so  much 
pain,  and  perhaps  also  a  large  part  of  his  genius. 

Several  bullets  struck  far  from  the  intended  mark — one  even 
penetrated  the  ceiling  ;  and  as  the  charming  creature  laughed  madly, 
mocking  her  husband's  awkwardness,  he  turned  abruptly  towards 
her  and  said,  ' '  Look  at  that  doll  there  on  the  right  with  the  haughty 
mien  and  her  nose  in  the  air  ;  well,  dear  angel,  /  imagine  to  myself 
that  it  is  you ! "  And  he  closed  his  eyes  and  pulled  the  trigger.  The 
doll  was  neatly  decapitated. 

Then,  bowing  towards  his  dear  one,  his  delightful,  execrable  wife, 
his  inevitable,  pitiless  muse,  and  kissing  her  hand  respectfully,  he 
added,  "  Ah  !  my  dear  angel,  how  I  thank  you  for  my  skill  !  " 

No.  I. 

"  The  wind  in  the  plain 
Suspends  its  breath." — FAVAR.T. 

Tis  ecstasy  languishing, 
Amorous  fatigue, 
Of  woods  all  the  shudderings 
Embraced  by  the  breeze, 
'Tis  the  choir  of  small  voices 
Towards  the  grey  trees. 

Oh  the  frail  and  fresh  murmuring  1 

The  twitter  and  buzz, 

The  soft  cry  resembling 

That's  expired  by  the  grass  .  .   . 

Oh,  the  roll  of  the  pebbles 

'Neath  waters  that  pass  1 


Oh,  this  soul  that  is  groaning 
In  sleepy  complaint ! 
In  us  is  it  moaning? 
In  me  and  in  you '? 
Low  anthem  exhaling 
While  soft  falls  the  dew. 

No.  VIII. 

In  the  unending 
Dulness  of  this  land, 
Uncertain  the  snow 
Is  gleaming  like  sand. 

No  kind  of  brightness 
In  copper-hued  sky, 
The  moon  you  might  see 
Now  live  and  now  die. 

Grey  float  the  oak  trees — 
Cloudlike  they  seem — 
Of  neighbouring  forests, 
The  mists  in  between. 

Wolves  hungry  and  lean, 
And  famishing  crow, 
What  happens  to  you 
When  acid  winds  blow  ? 

In  the  unending 
Dulness  of  this  land, 
Uncertain  the  snow 
Is  gleaming  like  sand. 


When  he  went  away, 
(Then  I  heard  the  door) 
When  he  went  away, 
On  her  lips  a  smile  there  lay 

236  WHAT  IS  ART? 

Back  he  came  to  her, 
(Then  I  heard  the  lamp) 
Back  he  came  to  her, 
Someone  else  was  there  .  ,   . 

It  was  death  I  met, 

(And  I  heard  her  soul)  • 

It  was  death  I  met, 

For  her  he's  waiting  yet  .  .  . 

Someone  came  to  say, 
(Child,   I  am  afraid) 
Someone  came  to  say 
That  he  would  go  away  .   .  . 

With  my  lamp  alight, 
(Child,   I  am  afraid) 
"With  my  lamp  alight, 
Approached  I  in  affright  .  .  » 

To  one  door  I  came, 
(Child,  I  am  afraid) 
To  one  door  I  came, 
A  shudder  shook  the  flame  .  .  . 

At  the  second  door, 
(Child,  I  am  afraid) 
At  the  second  door 
Forth  words  the  flame  did  pour  . 

To  the  third  I  came, 

(Child,   I  am  afraid) 

To  the  third  I  came, 

Then  died  the  little  flame  .  .  . 

Should  he  one  day  return 
Then  what  shall  we  say  ? 
"Waiting,  tell  him,  one 

And  dying  for  him  lay  .  .  . 

If  he  asks  for  you, 
Say  what  answer  then  ? 
Give  him  my  gold  ring 

And  answer  not  a  thing  .  .  . 

WHAT  IS  ART?  237 

Should  he  question  me 
Concerning  the  last  hour  ? 
Say  I  smiled  for  fear 

That  he  should  shed  a  tear  .   . 

Should  he  question  more 
Without  knowing  me  ? 
Like  a  sister  speak  ; 

Suffering  he  may  be  ... 

Should  he  question  why 
Empty  is  the  hall  ? 
Show  the  gaping  door, 

The  lamp  alight  no  more  .  .  ,